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Commissary food found in cells of inmates participating in hunger strike, officials say

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Posted at 9:29 PM, Aug 03, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-04 09:23:31-04

SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah — Correctional officers discovered large amounts of commissary food in inmates’ cells participating in a hunger strike at the Utah State Prison that started Friday, officials said Monday.

As of Monday evening, 42 inmates at the prison continue to engage in the hunger strike. The inmates are all documented gang members located in the Uinta Facility, a maximum-security area.

The Utah Department of Corrections received a letter from those on strike on Friday, which listed six demands, including the relocation of gang leaders currently housed in one of the maximum-security units.

Since the hunger strike began, officials say, they have continued to offer regularly scheduled meals to those participating in the strike and have documented when the meals are refused.

“One inmate has twice accepted a breakfast tray; several others have accepted juice packets,” according to a press release from the Utah Department of Corrections.

Some of the inmates on strike hold jobs within their housing unit such as food handlers and tier cleaners, but have refused to fulfill their work duties since the strike began, the release states.

During an inventory conducted Friday, correctional officers discovered large amounts of commissary items in participating inmates’ cells, the release states.

“Since then, staff have documented several inmates consuming commissary food in their cells,” according to the release.

On Friday, about half of the inmates participating in the hunger strike allowed medical staff to record their weights but refused to allow other vital statistic measurements, the release states.

On Monday, medical staff again offered each inmate the opportunity to weigh and all refused. The medical staff also offered each inmate the opportunity to meet with a nurse on Tuesday.

One inmate accepted the offer, according to the release.

The Mental health staff also visited each inmate on Monday and will again visit on Wednesday and Friday.

Two inmates with pre-existing health conditions are being closely monitored.

“Medical staff has provided each inmate with a fact sheet outlining the possible adverse affects of prolonged fasting,” according to the release.

The release goes on to say that the Department of Corrections is also reviewing available legal options with its counsel from the Utah Attorney General’s Office should intervention become necessary.

“The Department does not capitulate to demands, threats or intimidation from inmates,” according to the release. “In fact, UDC policy states that inmates who engage in a ‘food strike’ may be subject to disciplinary action, an option the Department is now reviewing.”

In recent months and again over this past weekend, the release indicates, the Department of Corrections shared information with inmates participating in the hunger strike about policy changes that are currently in the process of being reviewed and revised.

Some of these policies include inmate classification system, programming and out-of-cell time in the maximum security area.

Those conversations continue, the release states.

On July 21, the release states the Department of Corrections met with representatives from the ACLU of Utah and two other advocacy groups to discuss its efforts to revise aspects of its restrictive housing policy, including implementing new programming, increasing out-of-cell time and adopting an independent review process for restrictive housing decisions.

“It is unfortunate the ACLU did not take advantage of this opportunity to advise us of these concerns and of a potential of a hunger strike, which it has apparently been aware of for some time, and seek to resolve them together,” the release states.