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Peaceful Protest at Mount Olive Prison

Limits on personal property sparked a peaceful protest by prisoners at Mount Olive Correctional facility in Fayette County, West VA. On October 2nd over a fourth of the 867 residents gathered on the recreation yard with 16 demands for warden Howard Painter. The demands ranged from better food and medical care to Painter's resignation. But the central complaint was about new limits being imposed on the amount of personal property each prisoner can keep.

According to deputy corrections commissioner, Jim Rubenstein, current reductions were necessary to replace outdated policies enacted in the 1980s. For example, under the old standard prisoners could keep up to 10 pairs of pants and 50 cassette tapes. The new policy reduces those numbers to 6 and 20 respectively. Warden Painter says that prisoners abuse the old policy by storing excessive amounts of property in an effort to hide contraband and to run their own stores.

On Monday morning prisoners refused to make license plates and perform other duties around the prison, choosing instead to sit on the recreation yard in protest. They started gathering around 9:00 am and went without food the entire day. Warden Painter refused to negotiate on any of the demands as long as the prisoners remained on the yard.

The Mount Olive facility, constructed in 1995, is under pressure to meet the accreditation demands of the American Correctional Association. Painter says the outdated policies on property limits pose major problems for the prison. Using pictures, he explained to a panel of guests, which included Sen. Shirley Love DFayette, how excessive amounts of property cause security problems. The system is filling with "younger, meaner, less accountable inmates," he said. "They even scare the old guys at Mount Olive."

According to officials, during their stay on the yard, several prisoners were seen and filmed hiding metal bars in their sleeves. Strip searches turned up a wire shank and some pieces of tile sharpened to an edge, but no metal bars were found. The warden also had officers with tear gas and weapons standing ready to quash any violence. They were never needed.

Painter admitted that the demands were designed to serve "a few people with personal agendas." One of the demands was that not all prisoners be punished for the actions of a few. In the end, no force was needed to remove any of the protestors. As they chose to relent, prisoners willingly submitted to a strip search and returned to their cells. The last prisoner left the yard at 3:30 Tuesday morning.

Source: The Charleston Gazette

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