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ACLU says prisoners want improved living conditions, more opportunity

(Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)



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DRAPER — Sunday, the Utah ACLU released a statement supporting the striking prisoners in a Utah prison facility, encouraging the Utah Department of Corrections to reassess several of the issues outlined in the inmates' letter. The department said, however, that it has been working over the last several months to address those issues.

The 42 inmates at the Uinta 2 facility began refusing food Friday morning, making a list of six demands, including the prison relocating gang leaders from other maximum-security units. The striking inmates are documented gang members, according to public information officer for the department, Brooke Adams.

"We disagree with how the letter characterizes aspects of our operations and practices," she wrote. "While we respect the right of these inmates to refuse to eat, we believe there are more positive ways to raise concerns and bring about change. We do not negotiate or respond to demands, threats or intimidation from inmates."

The ACLU refutes the claim that the strike is centered around the relocation of those individuals, however. It said that the protest is centered on conditions in which the prisoners are living, inadequate nutrition, lack of hygienic products for their cells and insufficient medical treatment.

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The ACLU said it has received dozens of letter from prisoners in the Special Threat Group in the Uinta prison. It claims that prisoners are locked in their cells for 47 out of 48 hours, only allowed out three times a week for an hour with a cellmate. They also claim that rehabilitative, educational, and work opportunities are not offered to them. Prisoners claim it is psychologically damaging.

"We have had enough of these squalid living conditions and would like to be treated with respect and dignity, with the opportunity to better ourselves," the ACLU quoted one prisoner as writing.

"We want to change for the better of the community, but we can't get any programming to better ourselves," wrote another, according to the ACLU.

The ACLU recommended engaging independent experts and assessment of the psychological condition of the inmates who have been in the facility for years.


We want to change for the better of the community, but we can't get any programming to better ourselves.

–Prisoner at Uinta prison


The prison said it was already in the process of reviewing and revising several of these issues, including the inmate classification system, programming and out-of-cell time in maximum-security areas.

Inmates were told months ago of the review and told again this weekend, Adams said. Additionally, the department has recently met with and invited the input of ACLU of Utah, the Disability Law Center and the Utah Prisoner Advocate Network. The ACLU said it has not been contacted about the specific issue of isolation, but the department has reached out about restrictive house policies generally.

"All of these changes require careful consideration of our ability to provide safety and security for inmates, staff and the facility given our limited resources and the design of the Uinta buildings," Adams said.

The prison continues to offer the inmates three meals a day and are monitoring their health. An evaluation was administered Friday and another was scheduled for Monday, according to the department.

In a written update late Monday, Adams said the Department of Corrections is considering possible discipline for the inmates participating in the hunger strike and "reviewing available legal options with its counsel from the Utah Attorney General's Office should intervention become necessary."

She also addressed the ACLU's support for the inmates in her statement.

"It is unfortunate the ACLU did not take advantage of this opportunity to advise us of … a potential of a hunger strike, which it has apparently been aware of for some time, and seek to resolve them together," Adams wrote.

Some inmates with cleaning or food preparation jobs have refused to complete those tasks, according to Adams. All 42 inmates continued to participate in the hunger strike Monday, though some appear to be eating in their cells, she said.

"During an inventory conducted on Friday, correctional officers observed large amounts of commissary items in participating inmates' cells. Since then, (prison employees) have documented several inmates consuming commissary food in their cells," Adams wrote.

One inmate has reportedly accepted breakfast twice, and several others have consented to taking juice from prison staff.

Medical workers are also monitoring the inmates to the best of their ability, but in many instances the inmates are being uncooperative, according to Adams. Every inmate refused to be weighed Monday, and only one has accepted the offer to meet with a nurse for a medical checkup.

"Two inmates with pre-existing health conditions are being closely monitored," Adams wrote. "Also under review is how refusing food might impact any medications an inmate is taking. Medical staff has provided each inmate with a fact sheet outlining the possible adverse affects of prolonged fasting."

Contributing: Nkoyo Iyamba

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Utah
Celeste Tholen Rosenlof

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