Inmates in the special maximum security unit at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City began refusing to eat last Friday to protest conditions they contend are cruel and inhumane, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.
"There are inmates in at least a third of our prisons who are refusing state-issued meals," said Terry Thornton, a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman.
Thornton said the number of declared strikers at Pelican Bay -- reported Saturday as less than two dozen -- and at other penal facilities fluctuates daily.
Thornton said some inmates refuse all meals while other reject only some; and some inmates ate in visitation areas, refusing to eat state-issued meals in their cells.
The strike was organized by Pelican Bay's Security Housing Unit inmates protesting the unit's extreme isolation, the Times said. The inmates are also asking for better food, warmer clothing and one phone call a month
The Security Housing Unit compound, which has 1,100 inmates, is designed to isolate prison gang members or inmates who've committed crimes while incarcerated. Inmates spend 22 1/2 hours a day in windowless, soundproof cells.
Prisoner advocates have complained incarceration in the unit is tantamount to torture, often leading to mental illness because many inmates spend years in the lockup, the Times said.
While the number of declared hunger strikers was thought to be less than two dozen during the weekend, more than 400 prisoners at Pelican Bay are believed to be refusing meals, Molly Poizig, a spokeswoman for the group Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, told the Times.
Poizig said the organization gets updates from lawyers and family members visiting inmates.