[Pnews] Santa Rita Prisoners Suffer Retaliation After Strike

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Dec 4 10:13:39 EST 2019


*FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 4, 2019*

From: Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee - Oakland

iwoc.oakland at gmail.com <mailto:iwoc.oakland at gmail.com>

To: Local media contacts, grassroots groups, community organizations

Press contact: Dan Siegel, Siegel, Yee, Brunner & Mehta, 
DanSiegel at siegelyee.com <mailto:DanSiegel at siegelyee.com>

*SANTA RITA JAIL CONDITIONS WORSEN IN AFTERMATH OF WORKERS’ STRIKE AMID 
DENIALS AND RETALIATION FROM SHERIFF’S OFFICE AND ALAMEDA COUNTY BOARD 
OF SUPERVISORS*

Three weeks after a weeklong work stoppage and hunger strike inside 
Santa Rita Jail, conditions inside the Dublin, California facility have 
worsened and prisoners are suffering retaliation for their 
actions.//Demands issued by prisoners - many of which detailed basic 
needs such as cleaning supplies and regular meals - remain unaddressed. 
Spokespeople for the Sheriff’s Office and the Alameda County Board of 
Supervisors have publicly denied that conditions inside the jail are at 
a “crisis level” in the aftermath of the strike.

The strike mobilized nearly four hundred prisoners to refuse meals, 
commissary, and work assignments from October 30 until the following 
Tuesday, November 3. In a display of political unity and discipline, 
prisoners collectively agreed on this set of tactics and delivered a 
comprehensive statement regarding their conditions; as well as a list of 
demands, which included regular access to cleaning supplies, regular 
meal times, more nutritious food, lower commissary prices, and more time 
out of their cells.

The strike began in Housing Unit 31 shortly after a man died on 
Saturday, October 26. Although statements from inside indicate that 
prisoners had already been planning a peaceful protest against jail 
conditions, the circumstances of the young man’s death only exacerbated 
inmates’ sentiments that jail conditions are unacceptable. While the 
Sheriff’s Office claims that the man died after snorting drugs and was 
administered Narcan, detainees allege that the man was in serious 
medical distress after experiencing a seizure that caused him to fall 
from his bunk. Detainees called for help, but medical assistance did not 
arrive for at least half an hour, at which point the man’s cellmates 
were moved to the yard “so that there would be no witnesses.”

The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights reports that Alameda County 
prisoners die at a rate of 13.6 per 1000 people, significantly higher 
than in Los Angeles County, which has the largest jail system in the 
world. This in-custody death would be the tenth this year, and the 43rd 
in the last 5 years, a statistic that supports Santa Rita’s reputation 
as one of the deadliest jails in the state. Community organizers suspect 
that in reality these numbers could be even higher due to underreporting 
of prisoner deaths. This is made possible by a policy that does not 
classify deaths that occur after release or in a hospital as 
“in-custody,” even if a prisoner was injured or became ill while 
incarcerated.

As soon as the strike began, the jail responded quickly and decisively 
to suppress collective action by prisoners. Individuals suspected of 
organizing the strike were transferred into different housing units, 
often from general population to the maximum security unit, to prevent 
them from communicating with one another. One individual, who drafted a 
statement on behalf of striking prisoners, was immediately transferred 
to Marin County Jail. After the first day of the work stoppage, all 
kitchen, laundry, ITR (booking), and pod workers who refused to report 
to work were fired from their jobs. Housing units that participated by 
refusing their trays were placed on lockdown. Workers who lost their 
jobs have since written a letter to the kitchen deputy asking for their 
jobs back, but received no response.

This aggressive response to peaceful protest by prisoners is partially 
motivated by the jail’s attempts to maintain control over inmates, but 
also motivated by a for-profit contract between Santa Rita Jail and 
Aramark Correctional Services, LLC. Prisoners employed by Aramark work 
in the kitchen’s scullery, warehouse, and food production line under the 
supervision of Sheriff’s deputies and Aramark employees. None of the 
prisoners are paid for their work. The large industrial kitchen supplies 
food both for Santa Rita and for other Bay Area jails. With a production 
quota to meet, and unwilling to negotiate with striking workers, 
Sheriff’s deputies forced women prisoners and protective custody inmates 
to work all kitchen shifts. Attorneys charge that intimidation, threats, 
and unpaid labor of detainees both before and during the workers’ strike 
violate California labor code, the Equal Pay Act, and the US Constitution.

Santa Rita spokesperson Sgt. Ray Kelly has issued several statements 
which deny reports of poor conditions, neglect, abuse and retaliation 
inside the jail. Labor inside Santa Rita “is completely on a volunteer 
basis,” he said to KTVU on November 21. Sgt. Kelly also denies that the 
jail is retaliating against prisoners. In an interview with The Appeal, 
he stated that women prisoners “stepped up and came forward” during the 
strike. “They were very helpful to us when the labor strike 
occurred...We did not single them out in any way. As a matter of fact, 
it was the opposite. We were really happy that they came in.”

On November 11th and November 19th, two federal civil rights lawsuits 
were filed against the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office by two classes of 
plaintiffs who are currently or recently incarcerated at Santa Rita 
Jail. These complaints are intended to apply additional pressure to the 
jail to improve conditions which violate prisoners’ constitutional 
rights and endanger their health. /Ruelas v. Alameda County, /filed 
November 19th, confirms that “Sheriff’s deputies threaten plaintiffs and 
other prisoner employees of Aramark that if they refuse to work, they 
will receive lengthier jail sentences or be sent to solitary 
confinement, where they would be confined to a small cell for 22 to 24 
hours a day.”

The lawsuit also contends that the jail’s contract with Aramark 
Correctional violates the 13th Amendment. Attorneys contend that the 
Sheriff’s Office knows or should have known that they are providing 
uncompensated labor in violation of state and federal law. The complaint 
confirms that the Sheriff’s deputies threatened to terminate prisoners’ 
employment if they are sick or injured, and that many prisoners were 
also threatened with 30 days additional jail time if they participated 
in the strike.

/Gonzales v. Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, /filed on November 11th,  
denounces inhumane and unsanitary jail conditions, price gouging, and 
neglect by the jail’s health provider, California Forensic Medical 
Group. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office is already a defendant in a 
number of lawsuits concerning sleep deprivation, abuse of pregnant 
women, and punitive isolation of people with mental illness and 
disabilities.

Along with the Sheriff’s department, the Board of Supervisors has been 
similarly unwilling to address the strike, prisoners’ demands, or hold 
the jail accountable for in-custody deaths. During the Board’s Public 
Protection meeting on November 14, community members and organizations 
voiced their concerns about jail conditions, retaliation against 
striking prisoners, and in-custody deaths, advocating for a complete 
audit of the Sheriff’s Office and administration of Santa Rita Jail.

The Board responded that they view an audit as an unnecessary “parallel 
process.” Supervisors claimed that the courts have a greater ability to 
influence Santa Rita’s policy, conditions, and budget through the many 
ongoing lawsuits against the Sheriff’s Office. Supervisor Scott Haggerty 
(District 1) voted “no” on the audit outright, while Public Protection 
Committee Chair District 2 Supervisor Richard Valle claimed that he 
needed more time and information to consider the proposal, thus 
preventing the audit from moving forward to the full Board of 
Supervisors for a vote. Valle pledged to make 1-2 trips to the jail per 
month, but offered no substantive measures to address jail conditions.

Community advocates believe that the Board is abdicating their 
responsibility to oversee the jail’s practices and use of funds. The 
same poor conditions which led to multiple costly civil rights lawsuits, 
they argue, are now being used to argue that a full investigation would 
be politically and financially infeasible. Attorney Yolanda Huang 
denounced a “culture of cruelty” within Santa Rita Jail which the county 
would rather obscure through costly settlements than address

Members of the Audit Ahern coalition and other community advocates in 
attendance were both outraged and disappointed by the Board’s response. 
They pointed to the fact that no ruling or settlement will lead to full 
transparency regarding the Sheriff’s budget, which has reached nearly 
half a billion dollars per year. Community advocates also expressed that 
more urgent solutions are needed, as litigation of the pending civil 
rights claims could take months or years.


“Over 300 prisoners went on strike asking for basic dignity,” said José 
Bernal, an organizer with the Audit Ahern coalition. “Santa Rita Jail is 
a very dangerous, dangerous place.”


-- 
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