Santa Rita Jail strike ends after a week, sheriff response pending

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The hunger strike and work stoppage at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, Calif. has ended because of concerns over alleged threatening actions taken by the jail, as well as the health of diabetic inmates, according to an email from attorney Yolanda Huang.

Several people who participated in the strike allegedly experienced additions of 30 to 40 days to their sentences, Huang said in an email, adding that the issue is being investigated. Alameda County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Sgt. Ray Kelly denied that any disciplinary action was taken against strikers. Kelly added, however, that 50 striking workers were let go from their jobs.

“We had 50 workers that did not show up to their job at their kitchen facility,” Kelly alleged. “Those people quit their jobs, as far as we’re concerned. When you quit your job, someone is likely to replace you, and you no longer have a job because you (quit).”

According to Kelly, several workers were allegedly intimidated into the strike and reportedly sent a letter apologizing for their absence and volunteering to continue work. Inmates who wanted to continue eating and working were allegedly pressured into the movement, he said.

The strike began Oct. 30, according to the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee press release, and allegedly occurred after the death of a man in custody Oct. 26. More than 300 people were involved.

“While the jail claims that the man died in booking, detainees allege that the man was in serious medical distress that remained unaddressed by guards until the man stopped breathing,” according to the press release.

The strike involved a list of 26 demands, including calls for more sanitary supplies to clean cells more than once a week, adequate fresh food — including fruits and vegetables — and more access to out-of-prison phone calls. Most notably, the document of grievances describes alleged unhealthy conditions for inmates, including alleged insect infestations and clothing supply limitations.

“New clothes are exchanged every Friday. Cell cleaning is scheduled every Saturday. Forcing citizen detainees to clean their cells, floor, bathrooms, and showers in clean clothes and then sit in their new dirty clothes for the remaining six (6) days of the week,” the strike statement alleges. “This is indignant and punitive treatment.”

Apparently, the request for cleaner conditions has been discussed.

“We did up the accessibility to the cleaning supplies,” Kelly said. “We have someone always available and willing to clean or help clean.”

Nine people have died in Santa Rita Jail in 2019 so far. The document calls for adherence to Title 15, which Kelly said is already being met.

“We are waiting to hear back from the sheriff on the demands, and future strikes are absolutely possible,” Huang said.

Contact Devaki Dikshit at [email protected] and follow them on Twitter at @DevakiDevay.