Hunger strikes have a long history in Ireland dating back to the medieval periods when Cealachan, a method of gaining justice for some perceived offense through starvation, was codified in the civil code called the Senchus Mor. This starvation tactic, whereby the victim fasted on the doorstep of their wrongdoer, could be used to settle or recover a debt, or address an injustice – the threat lay in that if the complainant was allowed to die on the defendant’s doorstep, that person would be held responsible for the death and the victim’s family.
Prison camps were set up in Russia by the Bolsheviks soon after the October 1917 revolution and the scale of imprisonment expanded enormously beginning in the late 1920s, with most prisoners forced to labor, especially in mining, logging, and construction. From the 1930s through the mid 1950s, camps around the country contained millions of prisoners (from common criminals to political prisoners such as dissidents and opponents of the regime) working in inhumane conditions. Many died due to overwork, extreme climate, disease and malnutrition.
When Alice Paul emerged into the somewhat stagnant scene of the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association’s (NAWSA) campaign for the right to vote in 1912, the energy and momentum of the movement surged. Having just come from Britain where women were fighting a similar battle in which they were imprisoned, partaking in hunger strikes and smashing windows, NAWSA’s polite pleading over a cup of tea with political leaders and legislators was not only ineffective in the eyes of Paul and other emerging women leaders, it was a blow to the dignity of women to request basic human rights.
On Friday, February 15, 1963, the student-led Civic Interest Group (CIG) began a demonstration against Northwood Theater in Baltimore, Maryland. The ultimately successful demonstration took place in the context of a longer history of protests against the cinema’s white-only policy. Students, mostly from Morgan State College, had picketed the Theater many times over the course of the previous eight years. Student demonstrations organized by student council occurred annually.
Editor's Note: We recognize that the inclusion of this case in a database of nonviolent action may be controversial because of the campaigner violence at certain points during the campaign. However, we have concluded that the campaigner violence was minimal under the circumstances. We also believe that the inclusion of this largely nonviolent campaign will offer strategic lessons on the use of nonviolence in similar struggles. Many prisoners campaigns in this database have been focused around the method of the hunger strike.
After months of organizing (primarily using contraband cell phones purchased from prison guards), thousands of Georgia prisoners launched a strike on 9 December 2010 when prisoners assigned to the earliest breakfast shift refused to leave their cells. This was the first major multi-racial prison strike and largest prison strike in American history.
The target was the Georgia State Department of Corrections.
In August 1967, New Mexico governor David Cargo appointed J.E. Baker a reform-minded and rehabilitation-focused administrator, as the Penitentiary of New Mexico's warden. Through his time as warden, Baker implemented a number of changes in the prison's operating power structure, building direct ties and internal structure with inmates while diminishing the authoritarian power of correctional officers (COs). During this time, Baker also allowed the growth of inmate programs to improve educational and social skills.
At the start of November in the year 1995, a new system was instated in the correctional institution of Full Sutton, located near York in New Yorkshire, United Kingdom. Over the few months before November changes to the system had begun to surface. The changes culminated in the incentives and earned privileges scheme, which added another level of control to prisons, to the prison rules, and to govenors' discretionary powers. In Full Sutton Prison, prisoners were already allowed to be punished for what seemed to be virtually anything according to the inmates.
On 6 April 1917 the United States of America entered World War I. The American army was about the sixth the size of Britain’s, and President Woodrow Wilson sought to increase the army’s numbers to one million through volunteer conscription. After only 73,000 volunteered, he enacted a mandatory draft. On 18 May 1917, the United States Congress passed the Selective Service Act, forcing men ages twenty-one to thirty years to join the military, increasing the army to 1,500,000 soldiers by 1918.
In 2011, over 12,000 prisoners of California’s corrections system participated in a hunger strike to protest their inhumane conditions of confinement.
The Norillag was a gulag labor camp, located in Norilsk, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia, a town in the Taimyr Peninsula on the coast of the Arctic Ocean, close to the mouth of the Enisei River. Inmates of the Norillag worked 12-hour days, in temperatures as low as negative 50 degrees Celsius during the winter. They worked in mines, brickyards, cement plants, and in the base camps, as well as on road and railroad construction.
A series of revolutionary movements aimed at freeing India from British colonial rule started in the early 1900s. In an effort to overthrow the British Empire and to end colonial rule, Indian revolutionaries and organizations undertook several tactics to free the region and become an independent country. Under colonial rule, the British government authority started penal colonies––one of which was established in Pakistan––to house Indian prisoners where they faced forced labor and worse conditions in contrast to English prisoners.