Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, Connell, Washington
February 1 – February 26, 2019 (exact end date unknown)

The majority of the prisoners at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center launched a hunger strike on February 1, 2019 to protest cold “breakfast boats” that they say are primarily sugar. A breakfast boat is a boxed meal that is given to prisoners during the evening meal, usually with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a muffin, bran bar, cereal and powdered milk.

Prisoner Michael Linear spoke to The Spokesman-Review, saying “The inmates up here, they want to be able to have hot breakfast once again. Now we’re on day five up here.” In regard to the “breakfast boats” he added, “All we’re getting is sugar. Sugar for breakfast.”

The prison reported that 1,371 inmates started the food strike on Friday, February 1 with the number growing to 1,721 by Monday, February 4. At the time of the strike there were around 2,000 prisoners housed at the facility.

On February 26, the Tri-City Herald announced an end to the hunger strike, when Karen Takacs, spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Corrections, stated that 96 percent of the prisoners at the facility were eating facility provided meals. No information was given about the other 4 percent.

Robert Herzog, assistant secretary for corrections for the Washington prison system, met with prison leaders regarding the strike. The negotiations resulted in a variety of concessions, including the addition of hard boiled eggs to the cold breakfast, an increase in the number of televisions prisoners could purchase in multi-prisoner cells and a commitment to re-pad the benches on some exercise equipment.

The strike occurred in the midst of a budgetary dispute within the state of Washington. In 2013, Governor Jay Inslee issued executive order 13-06 demanding all state facilities offer quality food and beverages to those under their supervision, and order that the department of corrections (DOC) admits it is not in compliance with. 

The DOC included in its 2019 budget request an additional $1,413,000 in funding to reinstate hot meals at five facilities, including Coyote Ridge and Walla Walla (the site of a similar food strike last year), and hire staff to provide them. The budget request makes clear that the current cold breakfasts provide the potential for prisoner unrest that could threaten the security of the institution:

“Reinstating hot breakfast and adding more nutritious foods is critical to staff and incarcerated individuals safety. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, many Washington State Penitentiary staff and incarcerated individuals safety were jeopardized due to a hunger strike. The strike stemmed from dissatisfied incarcerated individuals in regards to poor, unhealthy food options.  When this strike happened, DOC had to increase custody staffing and make emergency purchases to avoid a full blown riot (DOC had no funding for these emergency costs). Without funding to provide traditional hot breakfast service at these five (5) locations, we run the risk of these strikes happening again and putting more individuals at risk.”

Governor Inslee included an additional $2.78 million in his proposed 2019-2021 two year budget in response to the DOC’s request, but the budget has yet to be approved.

A 2016 report, Correcting Food Policy in Washington Prisons, released by the group Prison Voice Washington, criticizes the “breakfast boats.” From the report:

“Perhaps the most striking change implemented in recent years is the replacement of freshly cooked breakfast with a factory-packaged breakfast ‘boat’ that is mostly sugar and starch. CI replaced what had been one of the healthier meals served in prisons, usually including fresh fruit, lowfat milk, oatmeal, and eggs, with a plastic-wrapped ‘boat’ (so-called for the shape of the cardboard container holding the items) that incarcerated people collect at their evening meals. These boats contain a single serving of nonfat milk, an aspartame-sweetened, fortified drink mix (intended to compensate for DOC’s failure to provide all nutrients from real food), a serving of processed, usually sugar-coated, breakfast cereal, a breakfast bar that contains large quantities of sugar and chemical preservatives, a sugary muffin, and a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich. Like the CI diet generally, these items are almost entirely sugar, starch, and fat.”

The report states that the “DOC takes public officials on tours of a few small gardens at some facilities, presenting a rosy veneer of sustainability and fresh produce to circumvent any real scrutiny of the bleak food reality in Washington prisons.”

 

Citations:

Upset with breakfast, more than 1,500 Connell inmates stage food strike“, Tri-City Herald, February 4, 2019.

Inmates at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center on hunger strike over quality of breakfast food“, The Spokesman-Review, February 5, 2019.

Washington inmates go on hunger strike over breakfast food“, The News Tribune, The Associated Press, February 5, 2019.

Tired of cold muffins for breakfast, inmates at a Washington prison are protesting“, The Seattle Times, February 12, 2019.

Boiled eggs end inmate food strike in Connell“, Tri-City Herald, February 26, 2019.

Department of Corrections, BM – Food & Staff Safety Improvements“, Office of Financial Management, 2019.

Statement on Coyote Ridge Hunger Strike“, Prison Voice Washington, February 5, 2019.

Background:

Hunger Strike at Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla“, Perilous, April 1, 2018.

Washington State Prisoners Protest Poor Food“, Prison Legal News, January 8, 2019.

Gov. Inslee proposes $54.4B state budget with new tax on capital gains“, The Seattle Times, December 13, 2018.