Newspaper article

Wisconsin Prison Officials Begin Force-Feedings as Solitary Confinement Protest Continues

Newspaper article

Wisconsin Prison Officials Begin Force-Feedings as Solitary Confinement Protest Continues

Article excerpt

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections is force-feeding at least three inmates as a hunger strike aimed at ending a form of solitary confinement that can go on for years -- even decades -- continues for a third week.

Although the state DOC has detailed the medical conditions of the hunger strikers in publicly available petitions, the agency refuses to confirm that it has obtained court orders to force-feed inmates, citing medical privacy issues. Spokesman Tristan Cook did not immediately respond to questions about how often and on whom the department has used force-feeding.

Court records show the agency is now force-feeding Waupun Correctional Institution inmates Cesar DeLeon and LaRon McKinley Bey and Columbia Correctional Institution inmate Norman C. Green, who also goes by the name of Prince Aturn-Ra Uhuru Mutawakki.

The food refusal campaign, dubbed "Dying to Live," which about half a dozen inmates began as early as June 5, is aimed at pressuring the state to end the practice of holding inmates for lengthy periods of time in administrative confinement, which is intended for prisoners deemed a danger to the institution.

McKinley Bey, who escaped during a jail transfer in 1987 after shooting a sheriff's deputy, has been held in this status for at least 25 years, according to a federal lawsuit he filed in Milwaukee. He alleges such unending isolation -- at least 23 hours a day alone in a cell -- violates the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Roughly 100 Wisconsin inmates are being held in this type of long- term solitary confinement.

A top United Nations official has declared that such isolation beyond 15 days is tantamount to torture.

On Tuesday, 30 activists gathered in front of the Department of Corrections headquarters in Madison to protest the state's continued use of administrative confinement, chanting "solitary is torture."

Protester Chance Zombor said he had spent many months in solitary confinement at Waupun and Oshkosh correctional institutions. Zombor said such isolation causes inmates to become "psychologically deranged."

The protesters presented Cook with a letter demanding an end to the "overuse and abuse" of administrative confinement, improved mental health services for inmates in solitary confinement and other steps, including allowing inmates in this "non-punitive" status to have the same access to property, such as canteen items and TVs, that general population inmates have.

"As the public becomes aware of the torturous effect of any kind of solitary confinement longer than 15 days, you can imagine the outrage and bewilderment when they learned that we have inmates who have been in solitary for decades," according to the letter addressed to Corrections Secretary Jon Litscher.

Cook accepted the letter and told the group that corrections officials are working on possible changes to solitary confinement, which the department calls restrictive housing. …

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