One Day Hunger Strike at Notorious Santa Rita Jail

by Ella Rose-Kessler

On October 30, over 400 individuals locked up in Santa Rita Jail staged a one-day hunger and work stopage strike to fight back against the inhumane conditions they’re subjected to. The group had a list of 26 demands relating to their inhumane treatment, such the jail providing more cleaning supplies to maintain sanitary conditions, access to lawyers, better and more nutritious food, daily exercise and recreation time, and an end to price gouging for commissary items and phone calls.

A large percentage of the demands made should already be met based on state and federal standards, but the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office has chosen not to uphold those standards, leaving those incarcerated to use a collective show of power and community to hold them accountable.

The demand list stated,“Santa Rita needs to evolve its system and methods away from this punitive justice system and demoralizing, inhumane treatment of citizens and drug addicts to a modernized system and methods of restorative justice!”

Santa Rita Jail, located in Dublin, has a longstanding history of human rights abuses and currently has multiple lawsuits pending against it. Since 2014, forty-two individuals have died at the hands of the state while in custody at Santa Rita Jail. Recently a pregnant woman was kept in an isolation cell at Santa Rita and was allowed to give birth without medical assistance or help, further highlighting the cruel and inhumane treatment those inside experience.

In retaliation to this show of power by the inmates, individuals who participated in the one day strike have reported being threatened with and given 30-day additions to their sentences.

For every incarcerated individual at Santa Rita, the jail spends nearly $75,000 per year. The population, totaling nearly 4,000 individuals, results in millions of dollars being invested into cages rather than community.

One of the issues brought to the forefront by the strikers was people struggling with substance use, who are then locked up, aren’t provided with the services or medical treatment needed. Instead, the jail leaves them to deal with withdrawal symptoms themselves, putting them at risk of injury or death. Jails should not be used to fill the need for drug rehabilitation services, housing and mental health services.     

“People don’t realize that that [detox] can kill you. When I got arrested and went to Santa Rita they tapered me way too fast and it could have killed me,” said an anonymous participant in a focus group led by the Our City Our Home campaign. “My doctor wouldn’t even sign up for my dose switch, 200 to 10 mg a day taper. When I get out, I know I’m gonna use, by the end of the week I’d be “detoxed” but withdrawing… Not everybody needs to go to jail.”

The majority of the individuals locked up in Santa Rita are from Alameda County, which includes Alameda, Albany, Berkeley, Oakalnd, Hayward, Pleasanton and more. It’s imperative that as people who exist in these cities that we are in solidarity with those locked up in Santa Rita, their fight for humane treatment and the larger goal of prison abolition.

To become more engaged in organizing efforts by incarcerated individuals across the Bay Area and the country, sign up for action alerts and press releases with the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee at incarcerated