San Quentin prisoners go on hunger strike over coronavirus conditions

Prison activist James King says 'what's happening at San Quentin is the largest human rights tragedy' in California

A California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) officer wears a protective mask as he stands guard at the front gate of San Quentin State Prison on June 29, 2020 in San Quentin, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A small group of COVID-19 positive prisoners have declared a hunger strike to protest the living conditions inside San Quentin during the coronavirus pandemic.

The prisoners who have tested positive have said that they are locked in their cells all day with little to no access to showers, fresh air, or electrical power. The men have been moved from the main prison to a reception center housing unit.

READ MORE: Prisoners in L.A. jail attempt to get COVID-19 for early release

According to NBC Bay Area, seven men have committed to the strike. They have so far refused meals on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“What’s happening at San Quentin is the largest human rights tragedy in this state during the COVID era,” James King, state campaigner at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights told the station.

King, who was formerly incarcerated at San Quentin, was released from the prison in December.

“People at San Quentin are now putting their bodies on the line in the hopes of raising awareness. If they are successful, it will save lives not just of incarcerated people, but also the larger community.”

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sent the station a short statement saying they “understand and share the concerns” of the prisoners. The institution further stated that they are “implementing strategies to control the spread of the virus to protect all those who live and work in our state prison.”

1,131 people have tested positive. The numbers are likely higher because many prisoners are refusing to be tested for fear of being isolated. Access to personal protective equipment in the prison has been a challenge for the community, particularly during the beginning of the crisis.

READ MORE: ‘Last Prisoner Project’ calls for release of cannabis prisoners during COVID-19

The lockdown is also affecting families who say that it has been difficult to gain information on their sick loved ones.

CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz said prison officials have “worked tirelessly” to address COVID-19 at California prisons. “The thought that we don’t care or I don’t care personally, that’s the farthest from the truth,” Diaz said.

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