by Benjamin Tshirhart
On August 22, 2022, as many as half of the prisoners in the maximum-security unit of Rhode Island’s Adult Correctional Institution staged a hunger strike, protesting conditions in the 144-year-old prison. But officials with the state Department of Corrections (DOC) denied it happened.
“There have been no actions to indicate a hunger strike inside our facility, and no reports of inmates declaring to be on one,” said DOC spokesperson J.R. Ventura. “Everyone here has either come out to eat or have chosen to stay in their rooms and eat the commissary food they have purchased to keep in their cells.”
That was gaslighting, according to advocates with Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE). Staff Organizer Anusha Alles said that not only were prisoners on a hunger strike, but they had also reached out to her organization to publicize a list of demands. That included 8.5 hours of recreation time per day, fans for every prisoner, additional access to education and programming, as well as a reform of the prison disciplinary hearing process to allow prisoners to present evidence and call witnesses in their defense.
Also on that list was a call for the firing of a guard, Capt. Walter Duffy, who reportedly made over $150,000 last year as commander of the day watch at the lockup. Richard Ferruccio, president of Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers, dismissed that demand, saying Duffy “gets blamed for everything” because of his position and “catches a lot of heat.”
It’s unclear when the strike ended. Everything about it was informal, starting with its announcement — word came from the sister of one prisoner. DARE then organized a rally at which 30 carloads of supporters showed up. The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union added its voice, having received many complaints about conditions in the un-air-conditioned prison, where a heatwave just before the strike caused at least one case of heat stroke.
Ferruccio pointed out that guards must also endure high temperatures but unlike prisoners, are not able to wear shorts and t-shirts. “I wish there was air-conditioning for my staff,” he said.
At least everyone can agree that, in August, it’s too hot.
Sources: Brown Daily Herald, College Hill Independent, Providence Journal
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