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KPCC’S Sacramento reporter Julie Small tours the Secure Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison

An arial view of Pelican Bay State Prison
An arial view of Pelican Bay State Prison
Courtesy of the Department of Corrections

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California Prison officials have agreed to let a handful of journalists tour Pelican Bay State Prison this week (WED) following an inmate hunger strike at maximum security prisons last month. Inmates refused to eat for three weeks to protest conditions inside security housing units, also called the SHU. Thousands of prisoners in California joined the strike at one point making it the largest prison hunger strike in California in a decade. Inmates in the SHU spend 23 hours a day inside their cells and one hour in a walled-in cement yard for “exercise.” Inmates earn indefinite terms in the solitary housing units by participating or being affiliated with one of the powerful prison gangs. The only way out of the SHU is for inmates to “debrief”-- renounce the gang and inform on other members. Inmates says the policy’s inhumane—and puts them and their families at risk of retaliation. Prison officials say the policy has undercut the power of prison gangs and reduced violence in the prisons. KPCC’s Julie Small will go inside the SHU, meeting with a gang investigator who debriefs inmates, as well as the warden of Pelican Bay.


Julie Small, KPCC reporter covering Sacramento