Thousands of California inmates have joined a hunger strike that began last week at Pelican Bay State Prison, officials said.
Prisoners at the specialized maximum security unit at Pelican Bay began refusing meals on July 1 in protest of their conditions.
Inmates in 13 of the state’s 33 prisons then refused state-issued food in solidarity.
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Terry Thornton said 6,600 inmates joined the strike at its peak over the weekend. She said 2,100 inmates refused meals Wednesday, an indication the strike was winding down.
Molly Poizig, a spokeswoman with the group Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, said dozens of Pelican Bay inmates plan to continue the effort.
The Pelican Bay hunger strikers are protesting conditions in the prison’s so-called Security Housing Unit, where inmates are kept in isolation for 22½ hours a day in windowless cells that are soundproofed to discourage communication.
Unit inmates are demanding an end to long-term solitary confinement and forced interrogations about gang activity.
The Security Housing Unit segregates prisoners from the general population who have been determined to be prison gang members or have committed a serious crime while in prison.
About 4,000 of the 162,000 inmates in the state corrections system are housed in such units, which exist at three other prisons in addition to Pelican Bay.
Most of the inmates refusing to eat were maximum security prisoners at prisons with the same type of specialized units as Pelican Bay, Thornton said. Some who refused state meals paid for food at the prison canteen or ate meals in visiting rooms.