Bay Area jail inmates to restart hunger strike Sunday

SAN JOSE (BCN)-- A Bay Area inmate advocacy group announced today that inmates in Santa Clara and Alameda county jails will restart a hunger strike - that started and was paused in October 2016 - this Sunday.

Silicon Valley Debug announced in front of the Santa Clara County Main Jail that Prisoners United, made up of inmates in both counties, would continue the hunger strike.

The original hunger strike lasted from Oct. 17-21, 2016 after originally being planned for two weeks and saw around 300 inmates participate. It, however, was stopped after sheriff's officials gave in to some of the inmates' demands.

Despite the fact the sheriff has met some of the inmates' requests when the strike was suspended last October, Silicon Valley Debug said "prisoners continue to be subjected to arbitrary practices which deny the
spirit of intent" for change.

The hunger strike will re-start at the Santa Clara County Main Jail, Elmwood Correctional Facility in Milpitas, Glen Dyer Detention Center in Oakland and Santa Rita Jail in Dublin.

According to Silicon Valley Debug spokesman Jose Valle, the primary demands of Prisoners United is to get rid of what they call a meaningless and arbitrary inmate classification system and implement a behavioral system similar to what's instituted in the California Department of Corrections. They also want to get rid of indefinite solitary confinement, which Valle said is a product of the classification system.

Valle said there are four separate levels of classification for the inmates at the jail, with level 4 being the most restrictive housing and level 1 being the least restrictive.

Santa Clara County Sheriff's Sgt. Reggie Cooks said the jail doesn't have solitary confinement.

"How they're positioning it is different form what it is ... they aren't isolated in that sense," he said.

Cooks said that the Public Safety and Justice Committee met yesterday where a report from the Jail Observer Program, which includes input from prisoners, commended some of the work the sheriff's office has done to
improve conditions so far.

"Following the recommendations of a national expert, we've implemented an improved classification system that has led to more out of cell time and programs for a greater number of inmates while at the same time
providing the appropriate security measures for our most violent offenders," a sheriff's office statement said.

"Every inmate, regardless of his or her security classification, has the ability to interact with fellow inmates in a
safe environment. We will continue to listen to feedback from inmates, their family members and the public on ways we can improve our overall operations as follow through on our reform plan."

According to Valle, the classifications are rankings based on charges and/or gang intelligence the agency has when a person enters the jail. He added that although some inmates could be down-classed, some housing
units were given cruel and unusual punishment when they were out of the cell,
he said.

"Every single time they're out of the cell, the TV is on mute. They can't speak to each other," said Valle, who also added that they were restricted to no social activities, board games or little other activity.

The classification system, Valle said, also allows for deputies to make a note, considered a "custody input", on an inmate's record, which the inmate has no knowledge of but can be used against them in court or other

The inmates' organization has five demands. In addition to the elimination of the classification system and indefinite solitary confinement, they want the end of group punishment, arbitrary practices of cruel and
unusual punishment during the time when inmates are out of the cell and the easing of what they call rigid family and friends visitation policies.

In 2016 Valle spoke with one of the strikers after the hunger strike stopped who told him it was suspended because correctional administrators met three of their five demands: more clothing exchanges and
providing enough clothes to inmates; setting equal prices as listed for items at the commissary instead of overcharging for the products and stop misappropriating the inmate welfare fund.

Santa Clara County Deputy County Executive David Campos said the county is making the hunger strike and the conditions in the jail a priority.

"The county takes the conditions in our jails very seriously and we have been working and continuing to work to improve conditions in the jail. The work is in the process and we're not done." Campos said.