Calif. county jail inmates end 11-day hunger strike

The strike ended after the inmates were given assurances that policies on out-of-cell time and sanitation would be enforced

By Casey Tolan
East Bay Times

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Calif. — Inmates in Santa Clara County jails ended an 11-day hunger strike after being given assurances that policies on out-of-cell time and sanitation would be enforced, activists said Friday.

The strike, which started last week, was the third of its kind at the Main Jail in San Jose and Elmwood Correctional Complex in Milpitas since 2016.

Jose Valle, a community organizer with the civil rights group Silicon Valley De-Bug, said inmates decided to end the strike after prison officials agreed to allow them more time out of their cells and provide sufficient supplies to clean their living quarters. Policies guaranteeing out-of-cell time and cleaning supplies were previously selectively enforced, inmates have alleged.

The hunger strikers had also demanded more wide-ranging changes to solitary confinement policies, inmate classification, and the jail’s grievance process, but decided to start eating again without concessions on those issues because they are being addressed in an ongoing lawsuit.

Valle said that more than 200 inmates participated in the strike for at least three days, and some refused meals and commissary food for all 11 days.

“The hunger strikes have been very effective,” he said. “The prisoners have basically empowered themselves.”

A Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office spokesman could not be reached for comment on Saturday, but officials previously argued that they have already increased out-of-cell time for high-security inmates in response to complaints.

“The current hunger strike, instigated by a select few individuals, is an unproductive negotiating tactic for change,” the office said in a statement last week.

Sheriff Laurie Smith faced criticism last fall during negotiations over another hunger strike for her flippant comment that some inmates “could stand to lose a little weight.”

The Sheriff’s Office has embarked upon a series of jail reforms since the 2015 beating death of mentally ill inmate Michael Tyree by three deputies who were later convicted of murder. A federal class-action lawsuit brought by inmates, Chavez v. County of Santa Clara, could lead to more changes in solitary confinement policies and other jail conditions.

Valle said inmates he had communicated with were inspired by their activism — and excited to vote in upcoming state and local elections.

©2018 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)

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