Former Tamms Inmates on Hunger Strike

hungerstrik2From Capitalist Media

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PONTIAC — Inmates moved out of the Tamms Correctional Center are taking a stand against conditions at their new location. Prisoners transferred to Pontiac in late December are now on a hunger strike.

The Department of Corrections confirms 47 inmates at Pontiac have declared a hunger strike, and staff are checking on the health of those prisoners.

Some groups say the men are striking to protest the way they’re being treated. Others believe it may just be the shock of moving from a small, specialized facility to a large, older prison.

“They are ex-Tamms prisoners being treated worse than everybody else at Pontiac,” said Prison Rights Coordinator Brian Nelson with the Uptown People’s Law Center.

Staff at the Uptown People’s Law Center in Chicago have received letter after letter from inmates about conditions at Pontiac Correctional Center. Those complaints include a lack of air circulation, no cleaning of the cells, and the sharing of nail clippers.

“The issue there is several of the men have Hepatitis C,” said Nelson. “Others have HIV and communicable diseases.”

Former supermax inmates, used to the rewards for good behavior, are also finding that they can longer have a TV or radio.

“Some of the guys are saying it’s worse here than in Tamms,” said Nelson.” At least in Tamms we could earn things.”

Earlier this week, those inmates began a hunger strike. It’s an action that the law center says could lead to punishment.

“They don’t take these decisions lightly,” said Legal Director Alan Mills with the Uptown People’s Law Center. “They are well aware of the risks.”

The Illinois Department of Corrections said in a statement Tuesday that they are taking steps to ensure inmate health, and the warden is interviewing each offender.

Former DOC Chief of Operations, Rick Bard, isn’t surprised by the hunger strike.

“They moved to a place that doesn’t have climate control.” said Bard. “It was built many, many years ago and was not a modern facility like Tamms.”

The supermax facility was under a close watch for human rights violations. Bard believes the department took extra care in dealing with inmates.

Tamms was also a much smaller prison.

“They would have seen much more attention as far as the staff to inmate ratio,” said Bard.

Now, those inmates are in a large facility. They are also mixed in with prisoners that haven’t had the same access to incentives found in the supermax program.

“That’s where the administration is going to have to make some tough decisions on how they want to deal with that,” said Bard.

The Department of Corrections says it is strongly committed to a safe and healthy environment.

Officials with Law Center say they believe these inmates have a right to protest, and they hope the department and prisoners will work to address the concerns.