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R.I. DOC: No hunger strike under way at max security prison

An activist group claimed that the inmates were protesting restrictions imposed during Correctional Officers Week

Rhode Island Adult Correctional Institution

Wire surrounds the top of the fence around an exercise yard at the Adult Correctional Institutions in Cranston, Rhode Island.

Mary Murphy/The Providence Journal

By Amy Russo
The Providence Journal

CRANSTON, R.I. — Rhode Island’s Department of Corrections is denying an activist group’s assertion that inmates have waged a hunger strike to protest temporary restrictions put into place during National Correctional Officers Week.

On Thursday, department spokesman J.R. Ventura told The Providence Journal that there is no one on a hunger strike, although a group of inmates in the Adult Correctional Institutions’ maximum security facility have chosen to eat in their cells rather than the dining hall.

According to Ventura, they are not being brought food, but consuming food they have saved.

“They have plenty of food,” Ventura said. “They have commissary food that they have bought. They have stocked up on that. Some inmates are sharing food with other people.”

Instead of protesting the temporary restrictions, Ventura said, the inmates “have concerns about the COVID restrictions, the television system that is outdated ... and repairs to the gym building.”

Direct Action for Rights and Equality, a Providence-based activist organization, said during a Thursday evening protest that a hunger strike has been launched in opposition to limitations on inmates, which have been imposed so that correctional officers can participate in the week’s events. That was originally slated to include “Family Night,” an event during which family members of correctional officers would be allowed to tour the facilities, but it was cancelled after backlash.

Activists, the Rhode Island Center for Justice and the state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union have condemned the activity.

DARE has characterized the current situation at the ACI as a “lockdown” and called for its immediate end.

Ventura denied that there was a lockdown, describing it as an “idea sometimes that gets pushed or misinterpreted.”

Earlier this month, in a now-deleted Facebook post, the correctional officers’ union released a schedule of events that used the word “lockdown” to describe conditions during the week.

At present, Ventura said there are no limitations being placed on video calls, phone time or shower availability, but that the scheduled times could be shifted.

Recreational time has been shortened for some, according to Ventura. For example, he said, an inmate who receives 45 minutes of recreational time may be given 30 minutes instead. Certain recreation times have been moved around, too, Ventura noted.

“What we have done is we have modified the movements inside because we want to make sure that there is enough coverage inside and also allow some correctional officers to take turns and kind of participate a little bit in some of the events,” he said.

©2021 www.providencejournal.com.

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