Supporters of inmates in Santa Clara Co. Main Jail hunger strike hold rally

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On Monday, family and friends of inmates, taking part in a hunger strike, rallied outside the Santa Clara County Jail to show their support and push to improve jail conditions.

The strike is underway, "in hopes that the jail administration and/or Sheriff Laurie Smith will engage with participating hunger strikers," the coalition Prisoners United of Silicon Valley said in a statement.

Those participating in the hunger strikes at both the Main Jail and the Elmwood Correctional Facility in Milpitas have not ordered food from the commissary and many have not ordered canteens since April 15.

Community activists said 200 inmates are taking part in the strike. They said one inmate has lost 22 pounds since the protest began. 

Carrying signs of support, families of inmates, taking part in a hunger strike, gathered outside San Jose’s Main Jail.  

Priscilla Chairez was among them. She’s concerned for her 21-year-old brother. She said he's only been drinking water since the strike began, upset with how the jail isolates inmates. 

“He’s been there for six years and it's hard,” said Chairez. “He's doing the hunger strike. He hasn't eaten in five days. He's lost five pounds. It's hard.”

This the third hunger strike in the past two years. Among the inmates list of demands are an end to what they call an unfair classification and grievance system, solitary confinement practices as well as basic sanitation issues.

“A lot of the hunger strikers weighed over the weekend and lost anywhere from 8 to 22 pounds so it's larger the demands themselves,” said Jose Valle of Silicon Valley DeBug. “It's their current health.”

The Sheriff's Office issued a statement in response to the strike that said, “We have diligently been working through our Jail Reform Plan in collaboration with several national experts. The current hunger strike, instigated by-a select few individuals, is an unproductive negotiating tactic for change. Custody improvements will continue as scheduled irrespective of the inmate protest."

The statement went on to say the health and safety of the inmates is their top priority and medical staff will be evaluating all participants. 

Families of inmates said it doesn't appear an end to the strike is in sight.

“He wants to see actions,” said Chairez. “He wants to see a difference, a change for everybody else in there. If he doesn't stand up for what he believes, who else is going to do it. All they have is each other to motivate each other.”