Most U.S. citizens take their civil and human rights for granted.
In fact, many of us are not fully knowledgeable of our rights as citizens of a democratic nation.
Don’t believe us? Take this online quiz to test your knowledge of First Amendment Law.
For most of us, there is no need to know what is taken for granted or to be self-evident.
And, when so few know the full extent of their own rights, even fewer are aware of or do not care about the rights guaranteed to the incarcerated.
Yet, the United States incarcerates a greater proportion of its population than any country in the world by far, and the vast majority of prisoners are incarcerated for non-violent offenses.
For many of us, the rights of the incarcerated are the rights of our friends, family members, and community activists. How many of us stop regularly to consider the ways in which the imprisoned are granted certain fundamental rights that are deemed to be necessary in a civil society?
Prisoners’ rights are loosely described as the nature and extent of the privileges afforded to individuals kept in custody or confinement because they have been convicted of performing an unlawful act.
Over the course of U.S. history, incarcerated rights at times have been established at the state level, while more recently, prisoners’ rights have also been established and protected by the federal government.
The basic rights of the incarcerated include (abbreviated):
- The right of access to the courts
- Freedom to the expression of religion
- The constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment
- The right to due process
Due to history’s betrayal of basic human rights afforded to the imprisoned, prisoners and the detained are now guaranteed civil liberties that at the least serve to respect their dignity as human beings.
However, despite the supposed “guarantee” of these rights, prisoners all over the U.S. are forced to serve out sentences in inhumane and torturous conditions.
And the prisoners in California have had enough.
The California Prisoner Hunger Strike
Since July 8th, close to 30,000 prisoners in the California state prison system have been refusing food as part of a massive, targeted hunger strike. Some even say that they are willing to die if their demands are not met.
Image by Rashid Johnson (Red Onion Prison in Virginia) in support of CA hunger strikers
So what are these (un)reasonable demands that prison officials are willing to risk lives to deny to incarcerated people? What exactly are California prisoners wishing to bring attention to and calling for in their strike?
Prisoners are calling for 5 simple and completely reasonable changes.
1. End Group Punishment and Administrative Abuse
A common tactic used in California prisons to control behavior is punishing large groups of inmates for the actions of one or a few.
Strikers are asking for an end to this unfair practice that is used for everything from justifying solitary confinement to denying leisure and recreational privileges.