[Pnews] Ohio’s Supermax Prison - Hunger Strike Ends But Extreme Isolation Remains

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Apr 21 21:23:18 EDT 2015

  At Ohio’s Supermax Prison, a Hunger Strike Ends But Extreme Isolation

April 21, 2015 by Vaidya Gullapalli 

Last week, men incarcerated at Ohio’s supermax prison, the Ohio State 
Penitentiary in Youngstown, brought a month-long hunger strike to a 
close. Between 30 and 40 men had refused all meals since March 16 to 
protest new restrictions placed on already severely limited recreation 
and programming for those in solitary confinement. On Wednesday, April 
15, all but one of the men agreed to suspend the hunger strike after a 
meeting with the warden at which the prison agreed to lifting some, but 
not all, of the new restrictions.

The Ohio State Penitentiary, or OSP, opened as Ohio’s first super 
maximum security facility in 1998. Conditions for the over 400 men held 
there are more restrictive than on Ohio’s death row. Even under policies 
that now exclude people with serious mental illness from placement 
there, the men incarcerated at OSP include those with mental health 
needs, including people with depression, dementia, cognitive and 
developmental disabilities.

Litigation by the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights about 
OSP’s conditions and the criteria for determining who was placed there 
went all the way to the Supreme Court in 2005. In that case, /Austin v 
Wilkinson/ <http://www.clearinghouse.net/detail.php?id=895>, the Court 
recognized that solitary confinement at OSP was an “atypical and 
substantial hardship.” The Court’s opinion, authored by Justice Antony 
Kennedy, included a description of the prison:

Incarceration at OSP is synonymous with extreme isolation. In contrast 
to any other Ohio prison, including any segregation unit, OSP cells have 
solid metal doors with metal strips along their sides and bottoms which 
prevent conversation or communication with other inmates. All meals are 
taken alone in the inmate’s cell instead of in a common eating area. 
Opportunities for visitation are rare and in all events are conducted 
through glass walls. It is fair to say OSP inmates are deprived of 
almost any environmental or sensory stimuli and of almost all human contact.

The Supreme Court held in /Austin v Wilkinson/ that individuals placed 
in isolation at OSP were entitled to due process in the form of hearings 
and periodic reviews—but it did not ban or limit the use of solitary 
confinement. Even before the recent additional restrictions were 
imposed, these men were guaranteed a total of only five hours outside 
their cells in a week.

These new restrictions affected men classified in the highest security 
levels at OSP (4B, 5A and 5B). Under the new policies their access to 
programming and recreation outside their cells was even more severely 
limited, and their isolation deepened even further.

Specifically, the restrictions eliminated “range recreation” for 
incarcerated persons in the highest security levels– a practice that 
meant that one person was allowed out of his cell to have access to the 
area between cells. While only one person was allowed out of his cell at 
a time this allowed a person to at least walk the length of the common 
area and have conversations with people in other cells.

In addition, the restrictions eliminated what is considered group 
programming and group religious services, involving the use of 
programming cages or “booths”, for incarcerated persons in the highest 
security level, a group that includes over 50 men.

As Michael Brickner of the ACLU of Ohio put told Solitary Watch, “People 
think when you go to programming you go to a classroom.” Instead, at OSP 
each person is placed in an individual cage. “The cages are in a 
crescent shape and they put the prisoners in there for…group 
programming, or any interaction with a staff member. Say you had to meet 
with the prison psychiatrist, or had to have your blood pressure taken 
by the prison doctor, that’s all done in those cages.” When even this 
form of group activity was halted, the only available alternative was 
for a a clergy member to go cell to cell, standing at a distance of a 
few feet from a cell door, offering religious counseling to the man 
inside the cell through the narrow food slot in each door.

In a press release on their website related to the hunger strike (that 
has since been taken down), the Ohio Department for Rehabilitation and 
Correction explained the additional restrictions as a response to 
numerous incidents, including an assault with a weapon on a corrections 
officer in December and gang-related activity.

Meanwhile, the ACLU of Ohio wrote letters 
to the Director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, 
the Warden of OSP, and the State Senator who chairs a legislative body 
that oversees the prisons calling for a lifting of the restrictions and 
an investigation into the conditions at OSP.  According to Michael 
Brickner, “The prisoners at OSP were already in some of the harshest 
conditions in our prison system. We already know that solitary 
confinement, in and itself, deteriorates a person’s mental state. With 
these additional restrictions they [we]re being subjected to such a 
severe level of solitary confinement it will be even more dangerous for 
the prisoners and ironically for the staff members who are there.”

By April 15, five men had been striking for a month. The decision to 
suspend the hunger strike that day came when the warden finally met with 
the hunger strikers and set out a timeline for restoring group religious 
services. It is unclear whether the educational programs will be 
restored. Range recreation will not be restored. One remaining hunger 
striker is protesting medical care that is unrelated to the restrictions.

One of the hunger strikers was Siddique Hasan, one of the ‘Lucasville 
Five’ – a group of men who were involved in the Lucasville prison 
uprising of 1993 and subsequently convicted in connection with the 
uprising. On the twentieth anniversary press sought in-person access to 
these men to interview them about the events at the prison. The Ohio 
Department of Rehabilitation and Correction denied in-person access to 
these men and has continued to do so. Solitary Watch is a plaintiff in 
the case being litigated by the ACLU and Staughton and Alice Lynd that 
challenges this ban on the Lucasville Five’s media access as a violation 
of these men’s right to free speech.

Though his own conditions of confinement had not been affected by the 
new restrictions Mr. Hasan was reportedly fasting out of solidarity with 
those affected. After the suspension of the strike he was able to give a 
statement over the phone and in that statement he explained that the 
suspension of the strike was in response to the warden’s promise that he 
would reinstate religious services and a recognition that “range 
recreation” would not be restored no matter how long the strike went on. 
The warden also left open the possibility of restoring educational 
programming and investigating concerns regarding food quality and safety 
equipment in the shower areas. Finally, the men agreed to suspend their 
strike on the condition that the warden meet with the last hunger 
striker, whose concerns were about medical care.

In the wake of the suspension of the hunger strike, Michael Brickner 
said, “We’re still going to be very concerned that there are some 
prisoners who are going to be in severe isolation that is very 
detrimental to anyone’s mental state.” He described out-of-cell 
programming as “critical towards prisoner rehabilitation” and said an 
investigation by CIIC would still be helpful.

Alice and Staughton Lynd, lawyers from Youngstown, were heavily involved 
in the litigation regarding OSP in the early 2000s. Speaking about the 
new restrictions they expressed their concerns over a trend towards 
isolating people as much as possible. They said it was a trend that 
reversed policies in Ohio that had recognized the necessity of 
socialization and group interactions for people in isolation. They 
emphasized the importance of people having “more and more congregate 
experiences so they would become accustomed to dealing with groups as 
they will have to when they are released, or even returned to general 

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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