At our Testimonial Dinner this year, we’re honoring the Prison Hunger Strikers and the Coalition of advocates, family members and activists who have supported them. There have been two major hunger strikes in California prisons – first in 2011 and again last summer. The strikes involved tens of thousands of people and focused on the travesty of solitary confinement. In many cases, people have been in solitary for decades. It is undeniably a form of torture, not to mention an added punishment not contemplated by many of those handing down verdicts and sentences. For those inside, hunger striking is one of the few ways they can organize against this horrible injustice. People were willing to starve themselves and risk their lives and they were largely met with contempt from prison officials and Governor Jerry Brown.
Some have responded, and there have been legislative hearings and a promising bill from Senator, and NLG ally, Loni Hancock, which would reform solitiary confinement in California. It is a small but important step that would never have happened had it not been for the actions of those inside prison who united across racial and ethnic lines to fight this injustice. It is part of a much larger issue that continues to be a struggle – the reduction if not elimination of reliance on punishment and harsh treatment as a response to problems like violence and poverty. I’m proud that we are honoring them and hope that we use it as an opportunity to double our efforts and truly be partners with all those struggling against an unwieldy and unjust system of punishment in California.