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Hungry for Justice in L.A. Jail

More than 50 detainees at the Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles participated in a hunger strike, protesting a lack of legal reference materials and law library access, in August 1996.

The hunger strike appears to have been confined to one section of the jail. Of the 74 men detained in that section, 54 refused to eat the noon meal on Sunday, August 4; 61 refused to eat the evening meal. The following day, according to local newspaper accounts, 58 detainees refused solid food, 35 of whom also rejected liquid sustenance.

Celes King III, a well-known bail bondsman and state chair of the Congress of Racial Equality of California, told reporters that he received several phone calls from jail detainees in the week leading up to the hunger strike complaining about curtailments in access to the jail's law library. King said he thought the detainees called him mainly to get the word out about the law library issue before the protest started in order to help focus attention on that issue.

By virtue of the fact that the law library issue was prominently reported in newspaper accounts, the detainees' strategy worked. Often prisoners or jail detainees stage a protest -- attempting to draw attention to an important issue -- but because nobody on the outside has been clued in before hand, when the press reports the incident the only information they have to go on is what the authorities tell them.

In this case jail officials told reporters that the strikers were protesting reduced access to telephones, quality of food, a recent lock down, and lack of complete reference materials in the law library."

That official statement makes it appear that the detainees were griping about telephones, food, and being locked down; the law library access is mentioned only in passing, and probably only because that issue was being reported by other sources.

Source: L.A. Daily Journal

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