Another hunger strike surfaces in Santa Clara County jails

SAN JOSE — Inmates at the Santa Clara County jails are engaging in their third hunger strike in two years to revive ongoing grievances about issues including inmate isolation, and new to this incarnation, basic sanitation.

The hunger strike officially began Sunday at the Main Jail in San Jose and Elmwood Correctional Complex in Milpitas. It also comes amid a steady stream of reforms spurred in the wake of the 2015 beating death of mentally ill inmate Michael Tyree at the hands of three jail deputies who were later convicted of murder.

Arguably the most notable of those reforms was the creation last month of a county Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring, a civilian watchdog to act as an independent vessel for complaints from the public and inmates against the Sheriff’s Office, which operates the jails.

Jose Valle, a community organizer with the civil-rights group Silicon Valley De-Bug, said inmate concerns have to be the backbone of any jail reforms that get implemented in the county.

“When we talk about jail reform and rehabilitation, they’re on the front line of that,” Valle said. “That’s what down-classing is about, so they get more visits with family, rehabilitation, education. They have the most stakes in this.”

The “down-classing” reference alludes to ongoing inmate outcry over how they are classified and placed into restrictive housing — including what they assert is virtual solitary confinement that entails 22 hours a day of cell time and minimal overlap with other people.

Like it did last fall when an 11th-hour meeting with jail officials staved off a similar strike, the Sheriff’s Office contends it has increased out-of-cell time for high-security inmates, and in larger groups rather than individually, in response to the isolation complaints.

Sheriff Laurie Smith has been at loggerheads with …read more

Source:: The Mercury News

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