Ohio inmates in 2nd week of hunger strike over program cuts
JULIE CARR SMYTH
Mar. 27, 2015
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Inmates at the state's highest-security prison have entered the second week of a hunger strike protesting recreation and programming restrictions that include a ban on religious gatherings for some of them.
Nine inmates at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown refused their meals on Friday in a protest that began March 19, a prisons department spokeswoman said.
The prison houses Ohio's super-maximum security lockdown and a few high-security death row inmates, including members of the Lucasville 5, who were convicted of having roles in a deadly 1993 prison riot.
Most inmates have been prohibited from roaming their enclosed housing units freely in a practice called range recreation, and group programming has been halted for the highest-security inmates, prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said.
"The recreation and programming changes were made as a result of a series of incidents, including a serious assault on staff," she said.
The crackdown means long-term inmates with no connection to the assault also are being punished, inmate Siddique Hasan, a strike participant and Lucasville 5 member, told reporters in an earlier conference call.
"They're running this place like a concentration camp, and we're challenging it now so others don't have to," he said.
Hasan said the policy change affects access to computer rooms, GED classes, counseling services and religious services, which he argues are a constitutionally protected right.
Smith said inmates still have access to spiritual leaders assigned to the prison on a one-on-one basis and can request to be moved to more private areas during those meetings if needed. She said the restrictions on range recreation match those already in place at state prisons in Toledo and Lucasville.
"During range recreation, inmates were passing contraband, making gang-related communications and encouraging altercations and disturbances," she said. "The process was discontinued for security and safety concerns for both staff and other inmates."
She said individual recreation policies remain in place, allowing for indoor and outdoor recreation for inmates of all security levels.
Communications between the two sides remain open, Smith said.