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It’s been more than three days since Texas inmates across the state started a hunger strike to protest indefinite solitary confinement, and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice confirmed that at least 72 people are still on hunger strike.
An activist working with the male protesters believes the number is approaching 120, compared to more than 300 who she estimates began refusing food on Tuesday. Striking prisoners undergo daily medical examinations, and doctors can force feed According to prison spokesman Amanda Hernandez, the prisoner’s condition is deteriorating.
“Our protest will remain peaceful and inclusive of all races and religions to improve conditions for ALL within the borders of the TDCJ,” according to a prisoner press release Friday, compiled by independent activist Brittany Robertson based on messages she received from six men on strike in three prisons.
Thousands of prisoners are being held in solitary confinement in Texas. In November, more than 500 prisoners had been in isolation for more than a decade.
Under TDCJ policy, prisoners are placed in solitary confinement if they are in danger of escaping, have committed violent assaults or serious offenses in prison, or are confirmed members of dangerous prison gangs. The hunger strike is aimed at the latter.
A few months before the strike the hungry sent an offer to prison officials and state legislators to change Texas’ practice of placing and holding prisoners in solitary confinement because they are connected to a gang, even if they behaved well behind bars. The proposal called for the prison system to move from “gang-status” to “behaviour-based” solitary confinement and provide clear instructions and clear timelines on how and when people in solitary confinement would be released.
The offer looks like settlement agreement reached in federal court in 2015 against the practice of solitary confinement in California. After a wide-ranging two-month hunger strike in 2013 and during the years of inmate litigation, California agreed to no longer place people in solitary confinement based solely on their status in a gang, and to keep them in indefinite isolation.
Prison gangs, often organized along racial lines, are extremely dangerous and are responsible for much of the violence behind bars, according to Michelle Deutsch, director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Prison and Prison Innovation Lab. However, she said that the prisoners’ demands are reasonable, especially since solitary confinement for more than 15 days is considered torture. international human rights standards.
“We’re not talking about days, we’re talking about years, and it’s vague,” she said last week as prisoners prepared to strike.
So far, TDCJ has not given any indication that it will bend. Hernandez said agency intelligence linked the origin of the strike to an order from a Texas Aryan Brotherhood member in federal prison.
“If known prison gang members in state custody do not like their current conditions of detention, they are free to abandon their gang and we will offer them a path back to the general population,” Hernandez said in an email Friday. “However, we will not give them a free hand in our correctional facilities so that they can recruit new members and try to continue their criminal enterprises.”
Robertson dismissed the TDCJ’s claim, arguing that many, if not most, of the men on strike are members of the Mexican mafia or other gangs. She said that they would not obey the orders of a member of the Aryan Brotherhood.
“These men have lived together for years and have found that if they come together in one cause to want something better for all of their members, they can all redeem themselves and move on,” she wrote in a post on Friday.
Prisoners and Deitch also argued that the re-entry program for confirmed gang members to abandon their gangs and return to the prison population, Hernandez noted, could take years to get into. It may also require prisoners to testify against themselves or denounce other gang members, they said, deterring many from doing so.
According to a press release from the inmates, the inmates plan to continue to strike over the holiday weekend unless prison officials meet with a committee made up of various gang members hoping to start negotiations.
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