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Prisoners have rights, readers say

August 10, 2013|By Paul Thornton
  • Pelican Bay State Prison inmate Javier Zubiate stands in the concrete recreation area allowing him periods of controlled and highly monitored exercise in the facility's security housing unit.
Pelican Bay State Prison inmate Javier Zubiate stands in the concrete recreation… ( Los Angeles Times )

Convicted murderers, gang leaders and other hardened criminals tend not to draw much sympathy from readers. But the hunger strike taking place in California prisons, which is entering its second month and has drawn prolonged attention to the solitary-confinement conditions in which thousands of inmates are housed, may have changed that.

When the strike started, many of the readers who sent us letters were content to let starvation take its course with the protesting inmates; some even suggested it was a good way to address overcrowding. But this week, of the nearly three dozen letters we received on prisons, nearly all of them called on the state to address the prisoners' demands.

Here is a selection of those letters.

Cypress resident Paul DuNard pages Gov. Moonbeam:

"A dilemma facing California's intractable prison problem is what do with criminals who routinely violate the human rights of their victims.

"It appears that California has chosen to adopt the sociopathic behavior of the criminals it houses by replicating the their behavior with overcrowding, the torture of unending isolation, poor medical care and, finally, violating the rights of the prisoners' families.

"Instead of scaring the public into a Chicken Little panic, Gov. Jerry Brown, the former acolyte of Mother Theresa, should pay attention to the federal court rulings that more humane solutions are needed. Perhaps we need to pray that the governor will reconnect with his inner moonbeams and provide the creative leadership here as he has with so many other issues."

Laurel Gord of Venice says solitary confinement is torture:

"Thank you for your thoughtful editorial on Wednesday on the hunger strike. As you rightly point out, 'Our treatment of prisoners ... is a fundamental expression of American values.' I would go further and say that it goes to our most basic human values.

"Prisoners subjected to extreme isolation are prone to mental illness, including psychosis. Amnesty International found that conditions in California's security housing units may violate international law and the U.S. Constitution.

"I believe that long-term isolation is torture. It is wrong, no matter who it is used against."

Rabbi Aryeh Cohen of Los Angeles says it's about faith:

"As a rabbi, I join with many religious leaders across the country in calling for a swift, just and humane end to the hunger strike. Long-term, indefinite solitary confinement is immoral and antithetical to rehabilitation.

"The task is not to imagine that the prisoners in solitary confinement are innocent so that we might be compassionate toward them. The task at hand is to recognize that when we legitimately deprive people of their freedom, we take responsibility for their humanity.

"The obligation is to recognize that even those who have committed serious crimes are created in the image of God."

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