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04 May, 2017

US prisoners continue to hunger strike abysmal conditions

Prisoners across the U.S. have been holding hunger and labor strikes since last year, with tens of thousands of inmates protesting abuse and poor conditions. But news reports on the strikes have been few and far between, leaving prisoners’ requests for humane treatment in the dark.

On Oct. 30, 2016, Robert Earl Council was found sprawled unconscious on the floor of his cell in Alabama’s Limestone Correctional Facility after being on hunger strike for 10 days. Medical staff at the prison force-fed him intravenously, as his blood sugar levels had reached dangerous levels.

But Dara Folden, a member of the Free Alabama Movement, a prison reform advocacy group, believes the force-feeding was done with the additional motive of ending Council’s hunger strike and preventing him from garnering media attention.

But Council’s strikes – and the punitive action taken against him in return – did not end. In November that same year, Council was denied water by officials at the Kilby Correctional Facility after initiating a work strike. The Free Alabama Movement told Democracy Now that officials were trying to kill him.

Strikes by other inmates have occurred even more recently. On April 11, inmates at the Mississippi Department of Corrections ended a hunger strike which, according to family members, was initiated due to prison conditions that included inmates being barred from exercising outdoors. On April 13, at least 30 inmates at the Robert Presley Detention Center, located in California, launched a hunger strike.

Their demands echoed those made by other inmates around the nation, asking prison officials to prohibit the use of long-term or indefinite solitary confinement, provide inmates access to more clothing, decrease commissary prices, allow mental health prisoners to be moved out of general population and allow inmates to gain access to educational, religious and self-help programs.

On last year’s September anniversary of the Attica Prison Uprising, work stoppages and hunger strikes took place in 24 states, involving some 24,000 inmates who were protesting what have been described as “slave-like conditions.” At one prison in South Carolina, prisoners requested to be compensated for their labor, as well as requested that mentally ill inmates be kept in treatment programs. The prisoners also asked for an end to excessive vendor visitation and canteen prices and the reinstitution of classes for those who want to obtain their GED.

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