Officials at Central Prison in Raleigh confirmed this week that nine prisoners have been refusing meals. One prisoner, apparently the spokesman for the hunger strike, indicated in a letter that as many as 100 inmates planned to participate. A representative from the North Carolina Department of Public Safety said that prison staff would be monitoring the inmates that do join the protest.
The prisoners’ demands center on the medical care and general health conditions at the prison. Inmates and criminal defense lawyers have long criticized the quality of care available in the state’s prisons and jails. In his letter to authorities announcing the hunger strike, the inmates’ spokesman said that the prison population wants better access to medical care as well as care more appropriate to the prisoners’ needs.
The appropriate care relates to the well-known but unacknowledged incidence of unsafe sex practices in prisons. The prison does have — and does enforce — rules against sexual activity, but, the prisoner wrote, the activity continues. If prison authorities would take a different approach and acknowledge that these practices exist, they could prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.
HIV is a particular concern for prisoners, and their concern is backed up by data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says that inmates in both state and federal prisons are five times more likely to contract HIV than the general population.
While DPS promises that medical staff is on alert and that prisoners with existing health problems will be monitored more closely during the hunger strike, the department’s representative also implied that the strike won’t last long. Inmates, she said, say they will stage a hunger strike, but pretty soon they start eating again.
Source: News & Observer, “Threat of hunger strike at Raleigh’s Central Prison,” Amanda James, July 20, 2012