Pennsylvania prisoners start hunger strike against isolation practices

Originally published at Perilous Chronicle.

By Lena Mercer, Perilous Chronicle

On June 23, 20-30 prisoners at SCI Phoenix, a 3,800 bed state prison facility near Philadelphia, began a hunger strike. The strikers are protesting against the use of an Intensive Management Unit (IMU), or segregation unit, inside the facility. They hope to bring attention to the use of these segregation units that they say most people do not fully understand. Inside these restricted release units, prisoners are held in isolation without programming and with no redress to remove themselves from the enhanced detention.

Several of the strikers participated in the uprising at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware in 2017 and were later transferred to Pennsylvania through interstate compact. These prisoners, known collectively as the Vaughn 17, were charged with crimes following the uprising and have since organized jointly in their own defense.

In a June 1 statement written in coordination with Philly Anti-Repression, a Philadelphia-based organization that helps people organize against state repression, the Vaughn 17 group decried the conditions inside the facility. “Here, we are housed in our cells with only 5 hours of recreation per week, no programs, no schooling, no jobs, or anything else involving rehabilitation. We have been housed in this way (some completely misconduct-free) with no way out” they said in the statement.

Philly Anti Repression posted a call-in campaign on Twitter to be held on June 24 and 25. The intention of the call-in campaign, according to a participant, is to bring attention to the fact that while people are being sent into the Intensive Management Unit, no official protocols about the IMU exist. This leaves no possibility for people to administratively challenge their detention inside the restrictive housing.

“There is nothing productive or humane about locking up a human being in a box and letting them out for 5 hours a week,” the strikers said in the statement. “If PA DOC chooses to go into rehabilitating people and help them to become better human beings, then long term solitary confinement has to go.”

As of the evening of June 24, the strike was ongoing.

Lena Mercer is a journalist based in the Pacific Northwest and a member of the Perilous Editorial Collective.


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