California’s long-standing corrections crisis continues to unfold. The state has been under federal court order to address severe overcrowding that so severely impacted access to healthcare that the court found it constituted cruel and unusual punishment.
Though the case has been playing out for years, the situation remains tense. Recently, over 6,000 inmates went on a hunger strike to protest the conditions of incarceration. They claimed that many inmates are subjected to sensory deprivation in soundproofed cells without windows for 22 ½ hours a day.
The hunger strike went on for three weeks and involved 13 of the 33 prisons in the California system, according to press accounts.
Prison officials sought to rebut the allegations of inhumane treatment by holding an open house at the Pelican Bay State Prison. Legislatures and journalists were invited in to look around and, as it were, smell the (lack of) roses.
Prison spokesperson Oscar Hidalgo did not exactly give a ringing endorsement of the prison conditions. He called them “far from what we think is tortuous.”
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, of the General Assembly’s Public Safety Committee, had a different take. Borrowing a line from the 2008 presidential campaign, he said the Pelican Bay officials’ attempts to dress things up were like “lipstick on a pig.”
That phrase is certainly evocative. But the image of even the most bloated pig does not really capture the reality of the American prison system. Don't think pig; think Leviathan.