Hudson County Corrections and Rehabilitation Center, Kearny, New Jersey
March 18, 2020 – present
Prisoners at Hudson County Corrections and Rehabilitation Center began a hunger strike March 18, 2020 in response to their elevated risk of contracting COVID-19. The hunger strike grew over the following days and by Sunday March 22 it had grown to 120 participants. The strike began the day after another in the Essex County Jail in New Jersey. Besides fears of contracting COVID-19, it is unclear how connected these two events are. Over 50 people total participated between this hunger strike and the concurrent strike at the Essex County Correctional Facility.
Hudson County Corrections and Rehabilitation Center is operated by the Hudson County Sheriff’s Office and jails immigrant detainees under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
One detainee, Olisa Uzoegwu, who spoke with Vice News about the hunger strike, said “They say they are locking us in so we can be protected. But they don’t do anything different. The cells stink. The toilets don’t flush. There’s never enough soap. They give out soap once a week. One bar of soap a week. How does that make any sense?”
Another prisoner, who spoke with Vice News under conditions of anonymity, reported that the prison’s response to the pandemic is separating the prisoners and sending them into tiny, filthy, freezing rooms. He went on to say that prison administrators did not clearly communicate about the pandemic, and the prisoners have largely learned about it by watching the news.
The prisoner reported that the cells have a single toilet with no lid, and the prisoners can only flush them twice an hour. Once a day 20 prisoners are brought to a common room but not given any precautions. They were given one bottle of hand sanitizer, which they quickly went through.
An audio report obtained by ProPublica from Ronal Umaña, a 30-year-old immigrant from El Salvador, further exposed conditions at the facility. Umaña, who is participating in the hunger strike, reported that the prisoners are given one bar of soap a week. If they want more, they are required to buy it.
According to Umaña, when detainees expressed fear that being trapped in jail during a pandemic could threaten their lives, guards told them “you have to die of something.”
Fears of contagion at Hudson were sparked when two attorneys tested positive for the virus.
A few days later, prisoners at Rikers’s Robert N. Davoren Center announced a hunger strike and work stoppage and expressed their solidarity with prisoners at Hudson County Corrections.
“ICE detainees go on hunger strike in N.J amid coronavirus fears, lawyers say”, NJ, March 18, 2020.
“ICE Detainees Hunger Strike in Essex County, New Jersey in Response to COVID-19”, Perilous Chronicle, March 17, 2020.
“Immigrant describes shoddy efforts to fight coronavirus at ICE jail”, NY Daily News, March 20, 2020.
“Immigrants Are Now on Hunger Strike in 3 ICE Detention Centers Over Coronavirus Fears”, VICE, March 20, 2020.
“Stuck In Jail During A Pandemic: Coronavirus Hits NJ Prisons“, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, April 7, 2020.
“UPDATED: In hopes of seeing ICE release them, detainees go on hunger strike at Hudson County jail“, Hudson County View, March 22, 2020.
Header image source: indypendent.org.
Article published 3/24/20. Updated 4/9/2020