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ACLU of Utah supports maximum security inmates on hunger strike at Utah State Prison

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Posted at 9:06 PM, Aug 02, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-03 00:46:53-04

DRAPER, Utah – Officials with the Utah Department of Corrections have provided more information about a hunger strike currently being carried out by 42 inmates at the Utah State Prison, and the ACLU of Utah issued a press release stating they support the strike as an effort for relief from specific conditions faced by the inmates.

The 42 inmates are housed in the Uinta Facility and are in maximum security, and the initial press release regarding the hunger strike that began Friday states all 42 are “documented gang members.”

In a press release issued Sunday, the Department of Corrections states: “The hunger strike letter the Utah Department of Corrections received on Friday from 42 inmates in our Uinta Facility listed six demands, including the relocation of gang leaders currently housed in one of our maximum-security units.”

A press release issued Friday stated the demand was for the, “release of gang leaders now housed in a different maximum-security unit.” When asked for clarification, Brooke Adams of the Department of Corrections said the demand is for the inmates to be released from their current location in maximum security and relocated elsewhere within the facility, not to be released from prison entirely.

The press release does not specify what the other five demands are, but goes on to state that “some demands address issues that in recent months we have been in the process of reviewing and revising, such as our inmate classification system, programming and out-of-cell time in our maximum-security areas.”

According to the ACLU in Utah, the group has received several dozen letters from prisoners who are currently part of the Special Threat Group in the Uinta 2 housing unit.

“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,” wrote one prisoner, according to the press release from the ACLU.

The release from the Department of Corrections states that prison officials informed inmates of these concerns being a work in progress several months ago and again this weekend. The ACLU press release states there were several conditions being protested, but the two that stood out were that STG prisoners are locked in their cells with one cellmate for 47 out of every 48 hours and are allowed out of their cells for only about an hour three times each week.

The second issue is that the inmates in the STG are not given access to “rehabilitative or educational programming and no work opportunities. Some individuals who wrote to the ACLU have been living in these conditions for years.”

According to the ACLU, another letter from an inmate who has been in STG for several years states: “This place has heavy social and psychological effects on us, causing social and psychological disorders. Paranoia, high anxiety, it’s hard sometimes to communicate with family on the outside…even with other inmates.”

The ACLU further alleges the prisoners have raised concerns about inadequate nutrition, lack of supplies to maintain the hygiene of their cells and insufficient medical treatment.

The Department of Corrections states they have “recently met with representatives of the ACLU of Utah, the Disability Law Center and the Utah Prisoner Advocate Network and provided them with an overview of changes we are considering and inviting their input.”

They state the changes require careful consideration, as changes can impact their ability to provide safety and security for inmates, staff and the facility, “given our limited resources and the design of the Uinta buildings,” according to the press release.

The prison is continuing to offer inmates participating in the strike three meals each day on a regular schedule, and they are continuing to monitor their health. Medical checks will be offered again on Monday.

The release states: “We disagree with how the letter characterizes aspects of our operations and practices. While we respect the right of these inmates to refuse to eat, we believe there are more positive ways to raise concerns and bring about change. We do not negotiate or respond to demands, threats or intimidation from inmates.”

The ACLU states in their press release that “The ACLU of Utah encourages the Utah Department of Corrections to engage independent experts to evaluate inmate claims if there is any doubt about what the STG prisoners have told us.  In particular, the ACLU urges UDC to obtain an independent assessment of the psychological condition of the inmates subjected to these conditions for multiple years.”

Click here for the complete press release from the ACLU of Utah. 

FOX 13 News has requested the full text of the letter from the inmates regarding the hunger strike, but prison officials said they are not releasing it at this time.