A group of Wisconsin inmates plan to go on a hunger strike later this week to protest indefinite solitary confinement among other prison policies.
The protest is set to begin this Friday at the Waupun Correctional Institution, according to Dee Hall, managing editor at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. She said she received the lawsuit filed by one of the prison's inmates against the state Department of Corrections.
The Department of Corrections recently reduced the maximum time an inmate can spend in solitary from 360 days down to 90 for any disciplinary infraction. However, Hall said prison guards at the Waupun Correctional Institution have been able to put prisoners in solitary indefinitely under "administrative confinement," which, is technically non-punitive.
"What (administrative confinement) is intended to do is to separate prisoners who are considered to be dangerous from other prisoners. Also, any prisoners who are thought to incite violence," said Hall. "But the conditions that are described in administrative confinement are fairly similar if not identical to solitary confinement. It's at least 23 hours a day in a cell by themselves. The few times that they are let out during the week, it's just very briefly."
One of the inmates who filed the lawsuit alleges that he's been alone in a cell under administrative confinement for about 25 years. Hall said the same inmate has attempted escape several times. In one high-profile attempt, the inmate shot a deputy sheriff. Moreover, Hall said prison officials claim the inmate incites violence.
In addition to banning indefinite solitary confinement, the inmates are demanding other policy changes.
"They also want some more oversight of the way the state uses solitary confinement," said Hall. "They believe that it's completely unmonitored by anyone outside of the prison system."
The prisoners are also demanding for improved mental health care and psychological services for those who serve time in solitary due to what Hall said was a well-recognized connection to psychological stress.
Prison officials have not yet announced how they plan to handle the hunger strike, according to Hall. However, she said it is possible under a court order to force feed inmates.
Several local organizations are supporting the inmates' decision to go on the hunger strike, including the Industrial Workers of the World and WISDOM, a faith-based prisoner advocacy nonprofit.
The hunger strike comes at a time when issues of solitary confinement are being discussed all over the country. Colorado and California have banned the use of indefinite solitary confinement. Earlier this year, President Barack Obama banned solitary confinement of juveniles in federal prisons.