On July 16th, inmates at Central Prison, Bertie Correctional Institution and Scotland Correctional Institution launched a hunger strike in protest of various prison conditions, including solitary confinement. North Carolina Department of Corrections currently holds over 7,000 inmates out of approximately 36,000 in “Close Custody.” Among these are inmates are those held in Maximum Control, Protective Custody, Disciplinary Segregation and Intensive Control. Maximum security units are described this way by the DOC:
Inmates confined in a maximum security unit typically are in their cell 23 hours a day. During the other hour they may be allowed to shower and exercise in the cellblock or an exterior cage. All inmate movement is strictly controlled with the use of physical restraints and correctional officer escort.
Prison officials at Central Prison indicated on July 28th that only seven hunger strikers remained, but that the number fluctuated with inmates joining and stopping. The strikers are all Close Custody inmates and are held in their cell for 23 hours a day in isolation. As many as 100 inmates were reported to have participated since the launch of the strike.
Demands of the strikers include:
- “The end of cell restriction. Sometimes prisoners are locked in their cell for weeks or more than a month, unable to come out for showers and recreation.”
- “An immediate end to the physical and mental abuse inflicted by officers.”
- “Education programs for prisoners on lock-up”
- “The levels of I-Con, M-Con, and H-Con need to be done away with altogether. When one is placed on Intensive Control Status (I-Con), one is placed in the hole for six months and told to stay out of trouble. But even when we stay out of trouble, we are called back to the FCC and DCC only to be told to do another six months in the hold, infraction free.”
- “The immediate release of prisoners from solitary who have been held unjustly or for years without infractions; this includes the Strong 8, sent to solitary for the purpose of political intimidation.”
Central Prison in Raleigh was the site of a strike by inmates in December 2011. The inmates were protesting conditions in their kitchen employment. The strike leaders, referred to as the “Strong 8″ were placed in solitary confinement for launching the work stoppage. According to one of the strike leaders placed in the Intensive Control unit, “I-Con is an intensive form of segregation, typically 23 hours a day in a small solitary cell, with few if any resources available, constantly censored mail, and little recreational activity. Sentences on I-Con often last 6 months or longer.”
Central Prison currently holds over 600 inmates in Close Custody. In March, an inmate with a history of self-harm was found dead in his solitary confinement cell. In North Carolina, self-harm can be punished by up to 30 days in isolation.
According to local media, it is the intention of the DOC to address the concerns of the inmates after the strike ends.