Santa Clara inmates unite with hunger strike

More than 300 Santa Clara County inmates on their fourth day of a two-week hunger strike Thursday demanded sweeping changes to remedy numerous operational deficiencies at the Main Jail in San Jose.

The inmates’ strike is aligned with a national effort to address multiple inadequacies they’re experiencing while in custody.

Out of the 300 inmates participating in the strike as of today, 204 of them are in solitary confinement, said community organizer Jose Valle of Silicon Valley De-Bug.

Some of the conditions they’re facing at the county jail are worse than the state’s penitentiaries, Valle said:

“They feel this is the only drastic measure for real change, change in a classification system that’s been crippling Santa Clara County jails for decades.”

Five strikers who were weighed by a nurse this morning collectively lost 40 pounds, he said.

The group has made five demands to the sheriff’s office, which is responsible for operating and maintaining the county jails.

The group’s top two requests are for the sheriff’s office to adopt the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s classification system and end solitary confinement, which isn’t practiced in state prisons, Valle said.

The current rules are vague and at times based on administration’s opinion for when to place someone in isolation, which the group says should instead be based on an inmate’s behavior, he said.

The group is also calling for more sets of clothing on a day-to-day basis and frequent clothing exchanges, according to Valle.

The strike is also in part a boycott against the commissary company that the inmates claim is overcharging them for items that have a lower price listed on the product, Valle said.

The strike group is also alleging the sheriff’s office is misappropriating the inmate welfare fund intended to benefit in-custody programs, according to Valle.

Inmates claim they’ve been charged after the fact for a package of basic items that’s supposed to provided for free while they wait for an order from commissary, Valle said.

The group has asked about where the money from the fund is going, but hasn’t received a concrete answer, he said.

The inmates are looking to have Sheriff Laurie Smith meet with them and their families and supporters to address their concerns, according to Valle.

The strike is set to end on Oct. 31, but if their demands aren’t met they may decide to extend the action, according to Valle.

The inmates organized the strike and informed their families, who in turn notified community groups including Silicon Valley De-Bug, Valle said.

The group has also received support from the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association of Santa Clara County.

“We find ourselves in agreement with the striking inmates,” union vice president Roger Winslow said in a statement Thursday:

“Despite these calls for reform from a range of voices, the sheriff refuses to implement common-sense policies that would help officers better serve and protect our community. Her lackluster response to the serious hunger strike at hand is yet another example of her incompetence.”

The Sheriff’s Office has made recent changes to address inmates’ needs that include giving them more time out of their cells, cutting down the costs for phone calls and providing more clothing, sheriff’s Sgt. Richard Glennon said.

Custody authorities frequently assess and plan for any other changes for the inmates, Glennon said.

Correctional staff has continued to provide food to all inmates and any non-heated boxed meals will be donated to a local homeless shelter operated by The Salvation Army, according to Glennon.