Switching how it keeps count, California officials Thursday said the state had more than 12,400 inmates officially on hunger strike, having refused state meals for at least three days.
The corrections department refused to say where those protests are taking place. Without citing evidence, department spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman asserted the hunger strike is "organized by prison gangs." She said to identify which prisons are and are not involved in the protests "could put inmates who are not participating in extreme danger."
The number of inmates refusing to attend classes or go to their prison jobs Thursday was 1,300.
The corrections department also confirmed for the first time that it would discipline inmates who participate in the hunger strike, largely a protest over conditions in solitary confinement but also including grievances over prison food, rehabilitation programs and other policies.
In a written statement, the department said it is against state law for inmates to "participate in a mass disturbance" and protesters would be subject to discipline, including possibly being moved into isolation themselves. They also face seizure of any food stored in their cells.