By Bryna Godar
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Supporters of a group of Wisconsin inmates on a hunger strike protested the Department of Corrections’ decision to force-feed them Tuesday, holding banners in front of DOC offices and delivering a letter demanding negotiations.
Six inmates started refusing to eat June 10 to protest long-term solitary confinement, according to Industrial Workers of the World, a labor union working to draw attention to the strike. Court documents show the DOC has started force-feeding at least three of them: Laron McKinley, 61, Norman Green, 44, and Cesar DeLeon, 34. The union says Green has ended the strike and is pursuing legal action and at least one other inmate is also being force fed.
“These prisoners are being treated worse than the supposed terrorists at Guantanamo Bay,” said Ben Turk, a member of the Milwaukee chapter of IWW, which has been communicating with the inmates via mail.
Turk said inmates were force-fed three times per day at first, “which is totally coercive and unnecessary.” The United Nations, the American Medical Association and the American Civil Liberties Union have criticized the practice of force-feeding prisoners.
DOC spokesman Tristan Cook said in a statement he’s unable to comment on the medical or mental health of specific inmates, including any treatment being provided.
The group of about a dozen protesters stood along the highway in front of DOC offices starting early Tuesday morning, holding banners reading “Wisconsin force feeds prisoners” and “solitary is torture.” Around noon, they delivered a letter to the DOC demanding negotiations on its solitary confinement policies.
The inmates want to do away with solitary confinement beyond 90 days and immediately move prisoners who have been in solitary for more than a year to less restrictive housing.
Cook said in a statement that the letter is under review. He said the department is committed to meaningful reforms to the restrictive housing and administrative confinement process and has already made substantial reforms over the past few years.
The department eliminated the minimum length of stay for inmates and limits the maximum stay to 90 days. Prisoners can still be placed in solitary for longer periods, however, if they present a serious threat to themselves, staff, other inmates or the orderly running of an institution. Previous policies allowed prisoners to be isolated for up to 360 days for a wide range of offenses.
The inmates on strike say they’ve spent months or years in solitary confinement, according to IWW.
Cook said about 100 inmates are currently in solitary confinement out of a total prison population of about 22,700.