Monday, April 30, 2012

Ohio Super Max Prisoners on Hunger Strike

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012, Youngstown OH- OSP Hunger Strike Ends. After long negotiations with Warden David Bobby on Monday, May 7th, the hunger-striking prisoners at Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP) began eating again. Two of the men held out through Tuesday, unsatisfied with the agreement. The warden met with them separately, and they agreed to come off the strike. Warden Bobby reported that "by lunch time today, everyone was eating." This was confirmed by two prisoner sources.

At this point, details on agreements are unclear, but sources inside say that the hunger strikers are satisfied and feel they achieved results. One source described the demands and the Warden's response as "reasonable". Without going into detail, the main concerns were in regards to commissary costs, state pay rates, phone costs, length of stay, and harsh penalties for petty conduct reports. The Warden said that he discussed "many things" at Monday's meeting with strike representatives, "many things beyond the main demands" but he would not share any of the details.

The strikers are resting and recovering, but have mailed detailed information to outside supporters at RedBird Prison Abolition, which will be released to the public as soon as possible. The Warden admitted that one of the hunger-strikers was transferred to disciplinary segregation for an unrelated rule infraction, but stated that there were no reprisals or punishments for participating. One prisoner source agreed with this statement.

The hunger strike began on April 30th and was timed to align with May Day protests outside. Prisoners have stated an interest in "joining hands in struggle toward common goals" with protest and resistance movements like Occupy Wall Street.


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Monday May 7th, 2012, Youngstown OH

Prisoners at Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP) continue the hunger strike they started on Monday April 30th, in solidarity with May Day.

The number of prisoners refusing food has fluctuated from 24 to 48 over the last week, as some prisoners joined late. Communication with the super max prisoners has been limited since the beginning of the strike, but a clear list of grievances and demands has emerged from at least two sources.

The two primary demands are:
1. Improved commissary practices and increased state pay. The prison commissary can set prices at up to 35% mark-up on basic necessities like shampoo, food, and soap. These prices fluctuate unexpectedly, and are often prohibitive to prisoners without outside support, as state pay is only $9 a month.
2. A transparent and accountable security level classification process. OSP houses level 4 and 5 prisoners, the highest security level in Ohio. Once prisoners are classified at these levels and transferred to OSP, there is no clear process for how they can reduce their level and get transferred out of the facility. Prisoners can spend years in OSP without any negative conduct reports and still have no hope of their level being reduced.

Other grievances include:
1. Food portions and quality have been reduced due to austerity measures.
2. Inadequate medical care. Also due to austerity cuts, prison officials have stopped send prisoners to outside treatment centers for MRIs and EEGs unless their conditions are considered life threatening. They also often ignore doctor recommendations for pain medications.
3. Lack of enrichment programming. There are strict bans on many books and movies, and the institutional television channel has little variety. One prisoner said they run the same programs on a loop every six months.
The two sources for these demands are an open letter written to the local Youngstown paper, by prisoner Marcus Harris, and phone conversations with a trusted anonymous source inside the prison. This source also stated that at least one hunger striker has been punished for his participation, sprayed with mace in his cell and sent to disciplinary isolation. This report has not yet been confirmed. 

Warden David Bobby met with hunger strike representatives for 3 hours on Wednesday May 2nd. He says he will "continue to communicate with the inmates and listen to their concerns". Thus far, the Warden has called a committee to review commissary practices, comparing them with other Ohio Institutions.
He says that the security level classification system is not uniform because it takes the reasons a prisoner was transferred to OSP into account. One prisoner source was familiar with this argument. He described a situation where someone got sentenced to Level 5 at OSP for 48 months or less. He got no negative reports for those 48 months, but was still denied a security transfer because of "the reasons he was originally classified Level 5, but they already knew that when the brought him in and told him it'd be 48 months or less". This prisoner also said that consequences for petty conduct reports, like refusing to cuff up or return a food tray, have recently increased, "someone who used to be sent to the hole for 16 days, now might be dropped a level from 4 to 5". He considers these changes an attempt to keep OSP full of prisoners as "job security" for the Warden and Officers. 

The Warden said OSP currently has the most prisoners it has since it opened in 1996. He also said the current hunger strike is the biggest hunger strike since he became warden 4 years ago. It is also the second hunger strike this year. In February, twenty-five prisoners went on hunger strike for 3 days. Two major demands from that hunger strike were: increased recreation time, to the court required minimum of five hours a week, and improved commissary practices. The recreation time demand was met, but the prisoners say the current hunger strike "follows directly" from the neglected commissary demand from February. The warden says he does not remember what the demands in February were, and that the recreation schedule has changed repeatedly since the transfer of death row from OSP to Chillicothe last December.

Prisoner Mark Harris's letter ends: "in short, we are sensory deprived, underfed, isolated with little to no movement, unable to hug our children, family and friends, and we are stuck for an overly extended period of time, with limited programming". He requests that people use "whatever resources [they] have to help spread the word of our cause, to call and check up on us and our health and also to look into these matters".

Warden David Bobby 330-743-0700
ODRC Director Gary Mohr 614-752-1164

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Thursday, May 3: Ohio Super Max Hunger Strike Continues and Expands

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 has not returned 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.
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Monday April 30th: 25 Ohio Super Max Prisoners Start a Hunger Strike

Today at least twenty five prisoners at Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP) began a hunger strike. They are demanding that the Warden meet and negotiate with them for improved conditions in Ohio's super-max prison. These hunger strikers say they intend to continue to refuse food until their demands are met. Another, larger group of prisoners will show symbolic solidarity with the hunger strikers, and workers outside of prison by also refusing food on a one-day fast tomorrow, for May Day, the international day of worker solidarity and resistance.

Information about the hunger strike is limited at this time, because super-max prisoners have very constrained access to communication with the outside world. The hunger strikers are asking supporters of their cause to participate by calling Warden David Bobby (330 743-0700) and ODRC director Gary Mohr (614-752-1164). The hunger strikers are asking people to encourage Warden Bobby to meet with the prisoners and take their demands seriously.

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. At this time, it is unclear if that promise was kept and what relationship, if any, the current hunger strike has with February's Occupy for Prisoners hunger strike.

Ohio State Penitentiary opened in 1998. It houses over 270 level 4 and 5 maximum security prisoners, and until recently also housed 116 of Ohio's death row prisoners. OSP was built in response to the 1993 uprising at Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.
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