Media Release: Ohio Super Max Hunger Strike Continues and Expands

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Ohio Super Max Hunger Strike Continues and Expands

Thursday, May 3. According to a level 5 prisoner participating in the hunger strike at Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP) there are forty-eight (48) prisoners who have refused nine meals and should be officially recognized as on hunger strike. Warden Bobby refused to comment or return calls requesting information about the hunger strike.

The prisoner’s demands include the following:
1. Lower commissary prices. One striker writes:  “Commissary items are permitted to be marked up.to 35% above retail, while many of us receive only $8 a month.”
2. No more indefinite terms. Prisoners on the highest security level at OSP (level 5) currently have little prospects for reducing their security level and increasing privileges. “We are taken in front of a privilege review board every 90 days, yet can expect no [increase in] privilege for a year or longer” the hunger striker says of prisoners on Level 5B. Men on Level 5A have a privilege level review every six months, but there has been no increase in their privileges in recognition of good conduct for some time.
3. Healthy and nutritious food. According to the hunger striker, “austerity cuts have allowed our food portions to be shortened.”
4. Access to educational and enrichment materials. “There has recently been a major ban on books and music” the hunger striker said.
The hunger strike started on April 30th and was timed to coordinate in solidarity with May Day demonstrations and celebrations happening outside of prison. May Day is an international worker’s day, commemorating the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago. The hunger strikers are asking supporters to call Warden David Bobby (330 743-0700) and ODRC director Gary Mohr (614-752-1164). They say they intend to continue on their hunger strike until their demands are met.
This is the second hunger strike at OSP this year. The first occurred on Feb 20th-23rd in solidarity with the Occupy movement’s call for an “Occupy for Prisoners” day of action. That hunger strike ended with Warden Bobby, as well as officials from Central Office in Columbus, promising to increase recreation time to the court-mandated minimum as well as improve enrichment programming, food quality and commissary practices. Until recently Ohio State Penitentiary housed death row as well as the highest security level prisoners. When all but 6 death row prisoners were moved to Chillicothe, the number of Level 4 and 5 prisoners at OSP increased from 270 to over 400, and rec time was reduced to 3 or 4 hours per week. The court required minimum is 5 hours per week.

Yesterday, OSP officials confirmed that rec time has been increased. According to a unit manager and Warden Bobby’s secretary, after recent changes, Level 4A prisoners receive 5 hours a day congregating with up to 8 other prisoners at a time. Most level 4B prisoners are allowed to rec in pairs, for 5 one hour and forty-five minute periods a week. All level 5 prisoners rec alone, most receive 5 one hour and fifteen minute periods per week. The four exceptions to this rule are Level 5 prisoners sentenced to death for alleged involvement in the Lucasville Uprising. These men are allowed 7 hours a week due to an agreement following a twelve day hunger strike they staged in January 2011.  Recreation is the only time when any of the prisoners are allowed out of their 7′ x 11′ isolation cells. 

Updated information about the hunger strike can be found at RedBirdPrisonAbolition.org and LucasvilleAmnesty.org

Top Ten Things to Know About Illinois’ Prisons

Reblogged from:  John Maki, Coordinating Director, John Howard Association of Illinois

 Dec 13, 2010, Huffington Post

 The John Howard Association is the only organization in Illinois–and one of a very few in the country–that monitors its state’s prison conditions. 

In 2010, we visited almost 20 of Illinois’ prisons, communicated with thousands of inmates, and met with dozens of prison administrators and government officials.
Based on our work, we compiled a top-ten list of things Illinois citizens should know about their prison system in 2010.

1. Will Reform Continue?
In September 2010, Michael Randle resigned as the director of IDOC. During his 14-month tenure, Randle put the department on the path to reform, bringing in outside evaluators to assess policies and procedures, working with community groups to reduce recidivism, and exploring cost-effective alternatives to incarceration. Acting Director Gladyse Taylor has adopted many of these reforms. JHA hopes this continues.

2. The State Can’t Pay Its Bills On Time
Due to the state’s fiscal crisis, IDOC has operated under onerous budget cuts. More recently, the state comptroller has been unable to pay for goods and services needed by IDOC, leaving prison administrators scrambling to secure essentials like clothing and ammunition.

3. Too Many People In Prison
While states across the country are reducing their prison populations, Illinois has added more than 3,000 inmates, the equivalent of a large prison. This recent growth stems from the suspension of Meritorious Good Time, but the problem of prison overcrowding is rooted in ineffective and costly decades of tough on crime legislation, the war on drugs, and harsh sentencing practices.

4. Reform In The Works
In 2010, Illinois took significant steps to bring sweeping reform mandated by the Crime Reduction Act. Counties implemented Adult Redeploy, a program that funds local, cost-effective alternatives to incarceration; the state submitted a proposal for an assessment tool that will help better determine which offenders should be in prison; and the Sentencing Policy Advisory Council gathered and analyzed criminal justice information to help make the system less costly and more efficient.

5. Health Suffers
Medical, mental health and dental care remain chronic problems in the state’s prisons. JHA staff almost always discover personnel shortages in its inspection of prisons. Preventive care needed to prevent serious illness is often deferred, with predictable results.

6. Better, But Not Enough

The state has made progress in reducing the number of men held at Tamms, the state’s supermax prison. Yet the prison remains dedicated to solitary confinement and sensory deprivation. Forty inmates have been held in solitary since the prison opened in 1998.

7. A Good Idea
Video visitation is an innovative idea, and correctional issues want to make it available around the state. Video kiosks at half-way houses and other state facilities will make it possible for inmates in isolated prisons to stay in touch with loved ones and friends.

8. A Terrible Idea
Education, known to combat recidivism, is growing increasingly scarce in Illinois prisons because of budget cuts. Community colleges have been forced to cut programs, while prison policy means inmates serving long sentences may never get a chance to earn a GED.

9. It Is Expensive
An Illinois inmate costs the state about $25,000 a year. Because the state has eliminated an early release program, the prison population has risen by 3,000 this year to nearly 49,000 men and women. With longer sentences, we can expect the prison population to rise in coming years.

10. Important To Keep In Mind
Research shows that when low-level non-violent offenders are incarcerated instead of given supervised release, they are more likely to commit new crimes once they get out of prison. Almost 70 percent of all Illinois inmates are in prison for non-violent crimes and about 50 percent of all offenders serve six months or less.