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Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Confronting Torture in U.S. Prisons: A Q&A With Activists/Journalists James Ridgeway and Jean Casella

AlterNet / By Angola 3 News

Ridgeway and Casella, co-founders of Solitary Watch, discuss an upcoming prisoner hunger strike at Pelican Bay State Prison and the inhumane practice of solitary confinement.
 Prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison in California have announced they are beginning an indefinite hunger strike on July 1, 2011 to protest the conditions of their imprisonment, which they say are cruel and inhumane. An online petition has been started by supporters of the strikers. While noting that the hunger strike is being “organized by prisoners in an unusual show of racial unity,” five key demands are listed by California Prison Focus:

1) Eliminate group punishments; 2) abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria; 3) comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to long term solitary confinement; 4) provide adequate food; 5) expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates.

Notably, Pelican Bay is "home" to the only US prisoner known to have spent more time in solitary confinement than the 39 years that Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox of the Angola 3, have spent--since April 1972. Imprisoned now for a total of 47 years and held at Pelican Bay since 1990, Hugo Pinell has been in continuous solitary for over 40 years, since at least 1971--probably even since the late 1960s. Pinell was a close comrade of Black Panther leader George Jackson, who organized a Panther chapter inside California’s San Quentin Prison, similar to the prison chapter organized by the Angola 3 in Louisiana.

Journalist Kiilu Nyasha writes that on Aug. 21, 1971, the day of George Jackson’s assassination, “three prison guards and two inmate trustees were also killed. Subsequently, six prisoners, including Hugo Pinell, were singled out and put on trial. Reminiscent of the slave auctions, they were each forced to bear 30 lb. of chains in a Marin courtroom after being charged with numerous counts of murder and assault.” They became known as the San Quentin Six. Johnny Spain, the only defendant to be convicted of murder, was released in 1988, making Pinell the last of the San Quentin Six behind bars, despite having being convicted of a lesser assault charge  (read more).

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