At last count, about 2,500 inmates in California were still taking part in a hunger strike that began on July 8. If corrections officials were smart, they'd pay careful attention to the inmates' complaints, writes Wilbert Rideau in the New York Times. The main one is that prisons are too quick to toss a prisoner into solitary confinement, sometimes for years at a stretch. "Isolating a human being for years in a barren cell the size of a small bathroom is the cruelest thing you can do to a person," writes Rideau. He should know: The felon-turned-journalist spent a total of 12 years in solitary himself as part of a 44-year manslaughter sentence.
The bigger picture is that inmates are frustrated by what they believe to be prison officials' "abuse of arbitrary power," he writes. Prisons could remedy the problem by setting up better channels of communication—and by applying more common sense to what constitutes a trip to solitary. Why should the rest of us care? "Every year men from California’s Pelican Bay and other supermax prisons around the nation are released directly from the vacuum of their cells into free society, to live and work among you and your loved ones." It's in our interest to make sure prison didn't make them crazy. Click for Rideau's full column.