State officials say a hunger strike at Virginia’s only super-maximum prison has ended.
But Department of Corrections Director Harold Clarke said only 15 prisoners had refused their morning meal Tuesday at Red Onion State Prison. And by Saturday afternoon, officials say, that number was zero.
Clarke said the state does not consider the situation a hunger strike unless an inmate misses nine consecutive meals or declares he is on strike verbally or in writing. Once a strike is confirmed, medical staff begin monitoring.
Nearly 500 inmates at Red Onion spend 23 hours a day in a cell, don’t shower daily and have limited recreation. Some prisoners, including those with mental illnesses, have been kept in isolation for years, inmates and lawyers say.
State officials said in March that they would implement sweeping changes to Red Onion this year as part of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s four-year plan to help prisoners reenter society. But the inmates say changes are not coming quickly enough.
A coalition of groups, dubbed Solidarity with Virginia Prison Hunger Strikers, sent a letter with 10 demands to McDonnell (R) and Sens. James Webb and Mark R. Warner, both Democrats.
The hunger strike comes months after a group of lawmakers visited the remote Southwest Virginia prison and called on officials to curb the use of solitary confinement, especially for the mentally ill.
The prisoners’ demands include an end to indefinite segregation — the word the state uses for isolation — as well as fully cooked meals, monthly haircuts and an outside review of the facility.
Some members of the Virginia General Assembly and human rights groups have asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the use of solitary confinement at Red Onion.