Racine Correctional Institution, Racine, Wisconsin
Columbia Correctional Institution, Portage, Wisconsin
March 26, 2019 – April 22, 2019
Nine prisoners at two Wisconsin prisons began a hunger strike demanding an end to indefinite solitary confinement. A joint statement listing their demands and signed with their names cited the recently-elected governor’s campaign promises to reform solitary confinement practices. The hunger strike was timed to start on Madison Action Day, an annual prison reform lobby day. Outside supporters also organized a call-in campaign in support of the hunger strike. The strike “didn’t last long” according to one organizer, who then initiated a successful individual strike to prevent transfer to a higher security facility.
Six of the prisoners are housed at Racine Correctional Institution and three are at Columbia Correctional Institution.
Cesar DeLeon, who was force-fed for more than 250 days during the 2016-2017 “Dying to Live” hunger strike, released a statement to an outside organization affirming his intention to refuse food.
Outside organizers with the Milwaukee Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) created a phone zap to support the hunger strikers. Forum for Understanding Prisons, a non-profit advocating for Wisconsin prisoners, also released information from a public records request indicating previous and potentially ongoing hunger strikes in other Wisconsin prisons occurring through January and February of 2019.
The hunger striker’s demands include:
- Abolition of all forms of solitary confinement in juvenile facilities
- The elimination of “enhancer factors” that allow staff to hold people in disciplinary segregation beyond the 90 day limit imposed in 2015
- Creation of “mandatory caps” on administrative control, a solitary confinement status that currently may extend indefinitely. The prisoners petition for a 6 month cap on nonviolent cases, and one year for prisoners “presenting a substantial risk of serious harm to another person”
- Treating temporary lock up (TLU) status as time served in disciplinary segregation
- Extending time out of cell for isolated prisoners to 2 hours per day, rather than 4 per week.
- Limiting each Correctional Officer to no more than 4 months working in a solitary unit in each 12 month period, to protect staff members’ mental health and prevent them from adopting predatory behavior.
The hunger strike was timed with Madison Action Day, a yearly lobbying day of the WISDOM network, a state-wide social justice organization advocating prisoner reform. Emilio Del Torre of the ACLU announced the hunger strike before a 750 person crowd on the statehouse steps before joining a coalition of organizers delivering a list of prison reform initiatives to Governor Evers’ office.
According to a letter from organizer Cesar DeLeon, the hunger strike “did not last long”. On April 14 he started a solo hunger strike, demanding to not be transferred to the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility (WSPF) in Boscobel. Outside organizers coordinated a phone zap to support the demand, and Ceser ended the strike on April 22, after hearing he would not be transferred.
Another organizer at CCI, Ras AtumRa Uhuru Mutawakkil also began a hunger strike in mid-April, demanding release from administrative control. Uhuru has been held in solitary for 22 years, longer than any other Wisconsin prisoner. He was force fed during the Dying to Live hunger strike of 2016. This time before going on strike he filed a restraining order requiring that he not be force fed.
“Dying to Live Hunger Strikes, Wisconsin“, Perilous, June 7, 2017.
“Inmates say they will stop eating to persuade Tony Evers ‘to make good’ on campaign pledge to reduce solitary confinement“, Journal Sentinel, March 26, 2019.
“3/26/19 Hunger Strike Demands“, Wisconsin Prison Voices, March 26, 2019.
“Wisconsin joins national push to curb solitary confinement“, Wisconsin Watch, August 23, 2015.
“Madison Action Day“, MOSES, March 26, 2019.
“#CloseMSDF Activists Deliver Demands To Gov. Tony Evers“, WUWM, March 26, 2019.
“Hunger strike update“, Dying to Live, April 15, 2019.
“Phone Zap: Fight Transfer of Cesar De Leon“, Wisconsin Prison Voices, April 16, 2019.
“Phone Zap: 22 years in solitary confinement“, Wisconsin Prison Voices, April 18, 2019.