About 400 inmates strike at Santa Rita Jail to protest living conditions

Oakland IWOC/Courtesy

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On Wednesday, inmates in Santa Rita Jail in Dublin staged a one-day hunger strike and ceased work to protest alleged neglect and abuse, which allegedly includes the jail’s unsanitary conditions, forced labor and lack of access to medical care and legal resources.

According to a Wednesday press release from the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee in Oakland, the situation in Santa Rita Jail has reached a “crisis point.” Inmates are provided with cleaning supplies allegedly just once a week, which has led to alleged unhealthy conditions within the rooms. In addition, inmates claim that jail staff neglect inmates’ medical and mental health issues, according to the release. The Kincade fire has also worsened lockdowns at the jail and contributed to short-staffing, the press release noted.

“These conditions have gone on for decades,” said attorney Yolanda Huang. “People who are incarcerated are human beings and deserve to be treated as human beings.”

Between 360 and 400 prisoners are currently striking, according to Huang. She added that the strike had been occurring on and off since Oct. 18.

Nine people have died in custody at Santa Rita Jail in 2019 — not counting deaths that occur in local hospitals, which are not recorded as in-custody deaths — according to the press release. Huang compared the situation to that of immigrants being forced to live in unsanitary and unsafe conditions at the southern border of the United States.

“Santa Rita Jail is a huge waste of taxpayer money,” Huang said. “For the amount of money spent there, there could be far better outcomes afforded.”

Huang said she had not heard about any concessions from Santa Rita Jail and that there were no formal negotiations as of press time.

Sgt. Ray Kelly, a spokesperson for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, said a lot of information being spread about the strike is false.

“(The inmates are) not being maltreated,” Kelly said. “The conditions (in Santa Rita Jail) are better than some of the conditions that they have in our community. Let’s talk about the inhumanity of people living on the streets in our communities.”

The jail spends nearly $75,000 per inmate each year, according to Kelly. He added that inmates have access to food, shelter, medical care, their families, legal advice and religious leaders.

Kelly also denied claims that the strike participants were being intimidated, adding that staff ensured the health and safety of everyone in custody.

“It is jail, and jail is a place where not many people want to be,” Kelly said. “That being said, it is a place where a lot of good things occur as well. … It’s a place for second chances. That’s what jail is — a place for second chances.”

Contact Sebastian Cahill at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SebastianCahil1.