http://www.democracynow.org - More than 12,000 prisoners in California have entered their fifth day of a hunger strike in a push to end long-term solitary confinement, which they call a form of "indefinite state-sanctioned torture." Other demands include ending harsh group punishment, redefining gang activity, improving food quality, and increasing access to healthcare and education services. In addition to refusing meals, more than a thousand prisoners are also missing classes and prison work programs. This is the third large-scale hunger strike in the past two years. The current fast began at Pelican Bay State Prison, and has now spread to two-thirds of the state's 33 prisons. Corrections officials have reportedly responded by threatening to search prisoners' cells, subject them to mental health evaluations, and deny them access to visitors and mail. "While the solitary confinement is at the core of it, it's kind of about a lot of other issues," says Shane Bauer, a reporter who investigated the use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons for Mother Jones magazine last year. "It's become a much more widespread hunger strike. Each prison has its own demands, there are demands you see for rise in wages, from 13 cents an hour to $1 an hour, demand for the return of educational classes, and really the demands for the return of a lot of services that have been cut in recent years." Bauer began investigating solitary confinement in the United States shortly after being released from 26 months in an Iranian prison.