The four were central leaders of hunger strikes and protests that grew to include 30,000 prisoners at the high point in 2013. These actions put a national spotlight on the abuse of thousands of prisoners held, some for decades, with little human contact in 8- by 10-foot windowless Security Housing Unit cells known as the SHU.
The four were also plaintiffs in a suit — Ashker vs. Governor of California — that won an end to indeterminate-length sentences to solitary confinement in California and the release of over 1,400 prisoners from the SHU.
Despite the success of moving some to general population units, the fight is far from over. Many of those released from the SHU have been transferred to extremely restrictive conditions in Level IV prisons or in Restricted Custody General Population Units, which have conditions markedly similar to that in the SHU.
“Our fight is against solitary confinement, no matter what they call it or what forms it takes,” Marie Levin, sister of Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, told rally participants. She pointed to a giant banner held by protesters saying, “END ALL FORMS OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT.”
Letters from prisoners held in Level IV and Restricted Custody Units were read aloud, describing the denial of social interaction with fellow prisoners and lack of educational and job-training programs.