Ohio penitentiary prisoners win hunger strike to improve conditions, United States, 2012

Goals

"The hunger strikers demanded lower commissary prices, the opportunity to earn more recreation and out-of-cell time through good behavior and programs to teach them trades and help them cope with sensory deprivation linked to 23 hours of solitary confinement daily."

Time period

30 April, 2012 to 8 May, 2012

Country

United States

Location City/State/Province

Youngstown, Ohio

Location Description

The hunger strike took place within the penitentiary
Jump to case narrative

Methods in 1st segment

  • 48 prisoners went on strike to improve living conditions at an Ohio state penitentiary

Methods in 2nd segment

  • 48 prisoners went on strike to improve living conditions at an Ohio state penitentiary

Methods in 3rd segment

  • 48 prisoners went on strike to improve living conditions at an Ohio state penitentiary

Methods in 4th segment

  • 48 prisoners went on strike to improve living conditions at an Ohio state penitentiary

Methods in 5th segment

  • 48 prisoners went on strike to improve living conditions at an Ohio state penitentiary

Methods in 6th segment

  • 48 prisoners went on strike to improve living conditions at an Ohio state penitentiary

Segment Length

Approximately 1 day

Leaders

Marcus Harris, prisoner

Partners

Not known

External allies

Alice and Staughton Lynd, attorneys

Involvement of social elites

Not known

Opponents

David Bobby, Ohio State Penitentiary warden

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Not known

Campaigner violence

Not known

Repressive Violence

Not known

Cluster

Human Rights

Classification

Change

Group characterization

Prisoners in a penitentiary

Groups in 1st Segment

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity; Redbird Prison Abolition

Segment Length

Approximately 1 day

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

6 out of 6 points

Survival

1 out of 1 points

Growth

1 out of 3 points

Total points

8 out of 10 points

Database Narrative

The Ohio State penitentiary in Youngstown, Ohio, houses approximately 450 prisoners, with all of them under maximum security or administrative maximum security. Most inmates attend the penitentiary for the most severe sentences, for they have committed the most severe crimes. Yet, these prisoners have had a history of campaigning for basic human rights and for improving living conditions.

Beginning on 30 April 2012, forty-eight Ohio State penitentiary prisoners took up a hunger strike in order to improve conditions in their super max prison. While only forty-eight carried out the hunger strike for the whole week, hundreds refused at least one meal during the week.

At the time, prisoners claimed they were not allotted enough recreation time, they were being forced to pay inflated prices on necessary personal items, and they had no access to means of education. The prisoners, led by inmate Marcus Harris, demanded lower commissary prices on goods that are sold to prisoners, more recreation time, more opportunities to learn, and an end to a ban on books and music. Harris, speaking for many of the prisoners in the penitentiary, asserted that some prisoners were kept in solitary confinement in their cells for twenty-three hours per day.

Harris brought the issues to light in a phone call made to attorneys Alice and Staughton Lynd of Niles, OH.  Harris spoke with the Lynds the first night of the campaign, in an attempt to bring the campaign to the attention of the media. The Lynds did indeed notify the media and got the story to the public. The reaction was mixed, as many Ohioans paying taxes to support the state-run penitentiary were against raising their own taxes so that inmates could enjoy more of what they considered to be superfluous for some of the worst criminals. However, some prisoners’ rights groups got behind the campaign, like the Redbird Prison Abolition group, based in Columbus, OH, who sought an alternative form of social punishment to prisons that doesn’t deny basic human rights to prisoners.

The hunger strike was enough to convince prison warden David Bobby to meet with prisoners for a three-hour session on Wednesday, 2 May, to hear their demands and to discuss a plan of action. The Warden formed a committee to compare commissary prices at his prison and other prisons across the state.

There were no other forms of demonstration throughout the week, and prisoners called off the hunger strike on 7 May, after prisoners determined their needs had been met and addressed.

Sources

Millicken, Peter. 04 May 2012. 23 March 2013 <http://www.vindy.com/news/2012/may/04/inmates-launch-hunger-strike/>.

Turk, Ben. Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity. 30 April 2012. 23 March 2013 <http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/2012/05/01/25-ohio-super-max-prisoners-start-a-hunger-strike/>.

Under Lock and Key. 10 May 2012. 23 March 2013 <http://test.prisoncensorship.info/news/all/OH/1409/>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

John Pontillo, 24/03/2013