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Calif. prison officials let reporters tour Pelican Bay supermax prison

An aerial view of Pelican Bay State Prison.
An aerial view of Pelican Bay State Prison.
Courtesy of the Department of Corrections

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On Wednesday KPCC’s Julie Small goes on an unprecedented media tour of Pelican Bay State Prison near the Oregon border.

The SuperMax prison holds the “worst of the worst” of California’s inmates. Last month, some of those prisoners went on a hunger strike to protest conditions in isolation units.

Inmates in the Pelican Bay Security Housing Units, known as “the SHU,” spend 23 hours a day in their cells and one hour in a concrete exercise yard with a small opening to the sky. Inmates say the only thing worse than the isolation is that prison officials can keep inmates in the SHU indefinitely.

To protest that practice, Pelican Bay inmates last month launched what became the largest hunger strike in California prisons in a decade. The inmates ended the hunger strike after three weeks when prison officials said they’d review policies on putting inmates in solitary confinement. Corrections also agreed to give inmates in the SHU wall calendars, warmer winter caps and access to some educational courses.

During the hunger strike, KPCC filed three requests to visit Pelican Bay inmates. Corrections officials said no at first, but have since agreed to a visit to the toughest prison in California.


Julie Small, KPCC's State Capital Reporter