Santa Cruz County Jail inmates holding hunger strike

About a half a dozen people showed up to voice their concerns about overcrowding and other issues at the Santa Cruz County Jail Wednesday morning in Santa Cruz. — Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian

SANTA CRUZ — Several families with relatives in Santa Cruz County Jail held a strike in front of the main facility Wednesday morning, a way to show support for about 40 inmates already holding their own hunger strike.

According to Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dee Baldwin, about 90 inmates began refusing their jail-provided meals on May 5 to protest a handful of issues such as a lack of warm clothing options, television programming and prices in the commissary.

They also say they do not have access to certain rehabilitative and education programs, and to medical care.

Jail administrators have since met with inmates and have addressed some of the issues, including lowering the commissary prices.

“The staff is trying to see what reasonable accommodations they can make,” Baldwin said. But they don’t seem to be satisfied with the changes we’ve made.”

Baldwin said that many of the inmates have begun eating, while about 40 percent are still striking. Staff is still offering the meals three times per day.

Inmates participating in the hunger strike are being monitored medically, while those with health issues such as low body weight are on a 24-hour watch, Baldwin said.

Also according to Baldwin, the jail has in fact increased the numbers of programs offered, but added that some inmates – including those considered high-risk, are ineligible for some of them.

Vannika Marquez, whose brother is in custody, said that inmates are being mistreated.

“We want them to know that what’s going on is not something that should be discarded,” she said. “This is important. People just automatically assume that just because they are in jail they are automatically criminals.”

Marquez pointed out that many people in the jail are awaiting trial, and have not yet been convicted of a crime.

She criticized the sheriff’s office for “belittling” the situation.

“You have inmates that aren’t getting the proper treatment they need for when it’s really cold out,” she said. “You have inmates that aren’t getting the medical proper attention they need. And the food prices are outrageous.”

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