Santa Rita Jail prisoners’ strike status unclear, inmates call for demands

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Since Wednesday, tensions over the one-day hunger strike and three-day work stoppage at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, Calif. have continued, and attorney Yolanda Huang said she was denied entry for a scheduled legal visit Monday.

Sgt. Ray Kelly, spokesperson for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, said about 11 a.m. Monday he received word about the conclusion of the work stoppage strike after three days. Brooke Terpstra, a member of the Oakland branch of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, or IWOC, however, said it has been hard to tell the status of the strike.

On Wednesday, strike organizers incarcerated within Santa Rita Jail released a statement calling for the jail to adopt 26 demands that would increase their quality of life. Some of the demands included more opportunities and tools for inmates to clean their cells, more fruits and vegetables in meals, lower costs to make out-of-prison phone calls, out-of-cell time for 10 hours a day for minimum-security prisoners, mandatory yard access, lower commissary costs and adherence to state regulatory minimums outlined under Title 15 standards.

“Most of these demands are essentially just demands that the jail follow its own policy and stated objectives,” Terpstra said. “They are not asking for the world, they are not asking for early release, they are not asking for reduced sentencing.”

Santa Rita Jail distributed citations to strikers and workers who refused to work, adding 30 days to their sentences, according to Huang. Terpstra said 12 people were handed these citations.

Yet Sgt. Kelly said he was unaware of the allegations of citations, adding that “nobody” has been disciplined.

“We categorically disagree with the descriptions that were depicted in the media about the living conditions within the jail,” Sgt. Kelly said. “There would be no way our facility would be allowed to function or run if the conditions were as described.”

According to data found on the California Board of State and Community Corrections website, Santa Rita Jail housed 1,931 unsentenced male inmates in June, while in the same month, 338 individuals in the facility were sentenced and convicted of crimes.

Sgt. Kelly added that while Santa Rita Jail cannot fulfill its prisoners’ specific demands, more cleaning supplies would be provided to prisoners if requested. He said commissary costs and out-of-prison phone calls are higher priced but warranted, as revenues from phone calls go toward GED and vocational programs for inmates.

Terpstra said because prisoners have so few rights, it takes mass organizing and protest to achieve change.

“It’s our failure and the system’s built-in resistance to do oversight and change that has forced prisoners to basically advocate on their own behalf,” Terpstra said.

Contact Kaleo Mark at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @kaleomark_dc.