DRAPER – The end seems to be near in a hunger strike among inmates at the Utah State Prison in Draper.
Wednesday morning, 31 of the 42 striking inmates accepted breakfast trays, according to a press release from the Utah Department of Corrections, while the other 11 inmates refused their trays.
As of Wednesday evening, Fox 13 reports, 40 of the 42 inmates had agreed to end the hunger strike.
On Friday, 42 maximum security inmates – all documented gang members – began the organized protest, refusing their breakfast trays and informing prison staff they were beginning a hunger strike.
According to a press release from the Utah Department of Corrections, the striking inmates provided a list of demands that included a request for gang leaders to be relocated from the maximum security unit they’re currently housed in.
However, the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah said it has received several dozen letters from the prisoners contradicting that claim.
The ACLU said, as quoted in the press release:
Despite initial reports that stated the strike concerns the release of certain individuals, it is the understanding of the ACLU of Utah that the protest is centered on conditions in which the hunger strikers and other prisoners in their unit are living. The ACLU of Utah supports the striking prisoners in their requests for relief from specific conditions they and their fellow prisoners face.
The striking prisoners, who are part of the “special threat group” in the Uintah 2 Housing Unit at the prison, have been protesting various conditions at the facility, according to an ACLU press release, with the two foremost issues being:
- Extensive time locked in their cells and being isolated with just one cellmate. The prisoners are locked in their cells with one cellmate for 47 out of every 48 hours. They are allowed out of their cells only three times a week for about an hour, and only with that one cellmate.
- Special threat group prisoners are not given access to rehabilitative or education programming and have no work opportunities.
The prisoners also raised serious complaints about inadequate nutrition, lack of supplies to maintain the hygiene of their cells, and insufficient medical treatment, according to the press release.
“Some individuals who wrote to the ACLU have been living in these conditions for years,” the press release said.
The ACLU quoted some of the letters received from prisoners.
“We have had enough of these squalid living conditions and would like to be treated with respect and dignity, with the opportunity to better ourselves,” one prisoner wrote.
“This place has heavy social and psychological effects on us, causing social and psychological disorders,” another prisoner, who has been in the special threat group for several years, wrote. “Paranoia, high anxiety, it’s hard sometimes to communicate with family on the outside…even with other inmates.”
A third prisoner is quoted as writing:
We have nothing in here…how are we supposed to better ourselves when we can’t get any programming? This place is psychologically damaging, and these conditions are not helpful. We want to change for the better of the community, but we can’t get any programming to better ourselves.
The ACLU said Utah needs to fall in step with the national trend and move away from extreme isolation for prisoners toward “greater integration of all prisoners into a rehabilitative correctional experience,” according to the ACLU press release.
Throughout the strike, the Utah Department of Corrections has continued offering meal trays to all the striking inmates as regularly scheduled, according to a Utah Department of Corrections press release. Medical staff has also provided health checks for the prisoners.
On Tuesday, individual interviews were conducted with the protesting inmates to inform them that their privilege levels would be reduced because of their behavior, which is a standard consequence for “acts that jeopardize the safety and security and disrupt the operation of the facility,” the press release said.
Eleven inmates were moved to a different maximum security unit on Tuesday after they refused to submit to handcuffs so they could be safely moved to an interview room.
Some inmates covered their cell doors with paper, the press release said, also refusing to comply with orders and breaking sprinklers in their cells to cause flooding.
Two inmates began fighting in their cell, the press release said.
As of Sunday, the ACLU had not yet contacted the Utah Department of Corrections about the specific issue of reducing isolated confinement for prisoners, the ACLU press release said. However, in recent discussions about the general restrictive housing policies for inmates, according to the press release, the ACLU has learned the Utah Department of Corrections is considering ways to improve some of the conditions for special threat group inmates. Some of the prison’s cited roadblocks to doing this are safety, lack of physical space for time out of cells and programming, and staffing.
“While the UDC’s efforts are to be commended, the extreme conditions that STG prisoners face are ongoing and urgent,” the ACLU said. “We therefore urge prison officials to improve conditions for STG prisoners as quickly as possible and support the right of the striking prisoners to seek these changes.”
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