Hunger strikes at Calif. prison renew debate over confining prison gangs

To stop them from orchestrating mayhem on prison yards and neighborhoods across the state, prison officials condemned hundreds of reputed gang members to years of isolation


By Matt O'Brien
Contra Costa Times

CRESCENT CITY, Calif. — The sun rarely shines on the kingpins of California's prison gangs. To stop them from orchestrating mayhem on prison yards and neighborhoods across the state, prison officials condemned hundreds of reputed gang members to years of isolation in windowless cells.

For five years, the tough strategy worked, wardens insist. Quarantined crime bosses lost contact with their followers. No one could hear what they had to say. At least, not until July 1, when some of the most securely held prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison stopped eating and broke through their shuttered lines of communication with a mass hunger strike that spread into prisons across the state.

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