[Ppnews] Deteriorating conditions in Illinois prisons lead to hunger strike
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Feb 19 10:24:42 EST 2013
Deteriorating conditions in Illinois prisons lead to hunger strike
By Marcus Day
19 February 2013
Nearly 50 prisoners launched a hunger strike on February 4 at Pontiac
Correctional Center, a maximum-security prison in central Illinois. As
of February 16, almost two weeks later, some 25 inmates remained on the
The protest comes in the midst of increased overcrowding and growing
violent confrontations. On January 29, Pontiac was reportedly placed on
lockdown after a prison guard was injured by an inmate. A prison at
Pickneyville, Illinois, reported an attack on a guard in January, and
Menard Correctional Center, located 70 miles south of St. Louis, has
seen at least two attacks on guards over the last month and a half, in
addition to an inmate dying there under suspicious circumstances.
Among other complaints, the hunger strikers at Pontiac (which is the
oldest prison in Illinois and the eighth-oldest in the country) have
stated that Plexiglas barriers placed on their cell doors, installed
recently supposedly to increase security, are preventing their rooms
from being heated. Inmates are protesting as well against a lack of
necessities, such as the forms required for them to receive visits,
legal-sized envelopes, cleaning supplies and hygiene products. Inmates
have claimed that they are charged $5 to use items like nail clippers,
and that these utensils are not sterilized between uses, even though
some of the prisoners have communicable diseases.
The Uptown People's Law Center noted at the beginning of the protest
that prisoners could face punishment for launching the hunger strike.
"They don't take these decisions lightly. They are well aware of the
risks," Legal Director Alan Mills told WSIL, a southern Illinois
television station. Indeed, a few days after the hunger strike began, an
article in the /Pontiac Daily Leader/ stated that some prisoners who had
made formal complaints felt that they were being harassed and retaliated
against by guards and prison administrators.
Protests over intolerable prison conditions have been steadily
increasing since the onset of the financial meltdown in 2008,
particularly in those states, such as California and Illinois, where the
budget crisis is deepest. A 27-year-old inmate died in California almost
exactly one year ago, after a four-day hunger strike similarly launched
in protest against overcrowding and poor living conditions (see
"California hunger striker dies as prison conditions deteriorate
Notably, a significant portion of those participating in the current
hunger strike are said to have been transferred from Tamms, the
"supermax" prison in southern Illinois that was closed at the end of
last December. Some of these prisoners have claimed that conditions at
Pontiac are actually worse than what they faced at Tamms.
The ACLU has recently estimated that as many as 25 percent of inmates
housed at Tamms had been in continuous solitary confinement for 10 years
or more. As numerous studies have shown, even relatively short periods
of social isolation can have devastating and permanent physical and
psychological consequences. Last fall, in fact, the UN Special
Rapporteur on Torture issued a finding that stated indefinite solitary
confinement constitutes a form of torture.
However, the closure of Tamms and the transfer of those inmates to
maximum-security prisons were hardly motivated by an upsurge of concern
over the welfare of those prisoners. Just last week, the Illinois
Department of Corrections announced that because of overcrowding, six
prisons throughout the state would begin housing inmates in gymnasiums.
The Illinois prison system now houses nearly 50,000 inmates in a system
designed to hold 33,000.
Over the last 40 years, although the state population has only grown 12
percent, the number of those behind bars has grown from 7,000 to more
than 49,000, an increase of almost 700 percent and the result of the
right-wing, "law-and-order" policies pursued by both major parties.
The deterioration of prison conditions ultimately has its roots in the
intractable crisis of capitalism. On the one hand, as social inequality
continues to soar and opposition grows among workers, the Obama
administration and the political establishment generally are turning to
increasingly brutal and anti-democratic forms of rule. On the other
hand, both Democrats and Republicans are using the financial crisis as a
pretext for launching the initial waves of austerity against the most
vulnerable layers of society: the elderly and infirm, students and
youth, the desperately poor, and prisoners, among others.
Many of those who currently work as guards themselves were once skilled
laborers who were left unemployed after the US was deindustrialized.
Illinois governor Pat Quinn, a Democrat, has made the closure of state
prisons a key component of his budget-cutting agenda, which has slashed
state funding for Medicaid by more than a billion dollars and is in the
process of targeting state employee pensions. The American Federation of
State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents
Illinois prison guards, has vocally campaigned against Quinn's plans to
close down state prisons.
AFSCME's protests against prison overcrowding and violence, however, are
in no way motivated by humanitarian interest over the fate and living
conditions of prisoners---in fact, quite the opposite.
As Friedrich Engels noted in his classic work /The Origin of the
Family,/ /Private Property and the State/, the repressive power of the
capitalist state, which "consists not merely of armed men but also of
material adjuncts, prisons, and institutions of coercion of all
kinds...increases in the same ratio in which the class antagonisms
become more pronounced."
In opposing Quinn's prison closure plan, AFSCME seeks only to protect
the institutional interests of the prison guards in this repressive
state apparatus; their dispute with Quinn amounts to no more than
tactical differences over how to most effectively manage these
"institutions of coercion." Only the working class, basing itself on a
revolutionary socialist program, can once and for all do away with this
system of oppression and put an end to the domination of class by class.
/The author also recommends:/
California prison overcrowding set to worsen as governor raises state cap
<https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/01/16/pris-j16.html>[16 January 2013]
Overcrowding, budget cuts strain Illinois prisons
<https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2012/07/ilpr-j27.html>[27 July 2012]
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