California prisoners have been hunger striking since July 8 to protest the state's use of solitary confinement, and now they have a cohort of celebrities and other big names on their side. In a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown sent yesterday, Gloria Steinem, Jesse Jackson, Bonnie Raitt, Jay Leno, Noam Chomsky, and others called the prison isolation units "extensions of the same inhumanity practiced at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay," the Los Angeles Times reports.
The units are used to control prison gang violence, but the National Religion Campaign Against Torture—which organized the letter to Brown and a related demonstration today—compares them to torture. The group aims to close such units in a dozen states other than California as well. Raitt and other signers have visited California prisons; Raitt's experience "made a profound impact on her," a spokesperson says. Since the protest began, 385 inmates have continuously refused meals and more than 50 have required medical treatment, prison officials say. One hunger striker reportedly started eating again, then committed suicide in his cell; advocacy groups want his death investigated.