Saturday, May 19, 2012

Ohio State Penitentiary Hunger Strike Enters Second Week

May 9, 2012

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: OSP Hunger Strike Enters Second Week.

Monday May 7th, 2011, 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

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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