A week-long hunger strike protesting conditions at the Yuba County Jail ended Sunday.
Thirty-six immigration detainees began refusing meals last Sunday but by Wednesday – when the strike became officially recognized by jail staff – that number had dropped by more than half. The strike marked the third in 10 months.
The complaints were similar to those expressed during the six-day hunger strike in February: improving medical care access, which can allegedly take weeks, addressing unsanitary conditions and maintenance issues (like a current cockroach infestation), providing access to services, and addressing exorbitant commissary and telephone prices.
Sacramento-based immigration advocates spoke at a press conference in front of Yuba County Superior Court last Wednesday and alleged that though conditions improved initially after February’s hunger strike (like regular access to AA meetings and church services), things went back to “normal” after about three weeks. They alleged that some cells had no water or working lights, and that detainees were being held in daily 19-hour lockdowns.
Detainees participating in the strike were moved to a separate housing pod, described by an activist as “old and filthy.”
Rhonda Rios Kravitz, co-founder of Campaign for Immigrant Detention Reform and the Sacramento Immigration Coalition, said every single person on the D unit refused meals from the jail for the first three days. On the fourth day, 14 people remained and were transferred to the H unit, which she said was old and filthy. She said detainees asked for cleaning supplies, which they were given, and cleaned the area.
On the fourth and fifth days, the detainees were taken to the medical area to be weighed and have their blood pressure taken. On the sixth day, detainees refused to go to the medical area because it was dirty and unhygienic, she said. They stopped the strike after the seventh day and at 9 a.m. Sunday, they were returned to the D pod.
Leslie Carbah, spokesperson for the Yuba County Sheriff’s Office, said those participating in the strike – all of whom were men – were housed in a separate pod for purposes of monitoring – depending on the numbers, inmate classification and housing unit.
Advocates were denouncing Yuba County Jail conditions but also spoke largely about immigration issues at the border and detention facilities in Texas. Advocates hosted a press conference at the courthouse June 22 with assistance from the Japanese American Citizens League of the Sacramento Valley. Sacramento advocacy group Norcal Resist plans on hosting another protest of immigration facilities at Yuba County Jail Friday night.
The Yuba County Sheriff’s Office has had a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement since the 1990s, which has generated about $5 million in revenue annually in recent years, according to Appeal-Democrat archives. If the jail continues with its average of 182 ICE detainees each day, the contract could generate around $6.5 million per year. The department has said in past interviews with the Appeal-Democrat that the revenue from the contract is critical to department operations.