The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation counted 1,186 inmates in four prisons as participating in the hunger strike as of Tuesday, down from more than 4,200 inmates at eight prisons on September 29.
But a prisoner rights group put the number of hunger strike participants higher, saying as many as 12,000 inmates at eight California state prisons have taken part in refusing to eat.
The protest comes as California has begun carrying out a state-mandated plan to ease prison overcrowding by shifting responsibility for thousands of inmates and ex-convicts to county authorities.
The current hunger strike grew out of a protest started in July by prisoners housed in Northern California's Pelican Bay State Prison.
Inmates there were pressing a list of five demands -- an end to group punishments; an end to a policy that requires an inmate to identify fellow gang members in exchange for getting out of solitary confinement; an end to long-term solitary confinement; adequate and nutritious food; and greater privileges for prisoners confined to isolation indefinitely.
The original Pelican Bay strike ended in late July after prison officials promised some concessions. But the protest resumed on September 26 after inmates complained their concerns were not immediately addressed. The strike has since spread to prisons throughout the state.