For immediate release: 4/14/2020
No Detention Centers in Michigan confirmed on Monday that around ten immigrants imprisoned at the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan ended their hunger strike last week after at least some of them had gone without food for five days. The strike had taken place in response to a chaotic and unsafe environment, inadequate food and medical care, and reports of religious discrimination and repression experienced inside the prison’s Special Housing Unit, where a group of predominantly Black men have been held for more than a month after an altercation in which they were not involved. Prison staff and spokespeople for the GEO Group, which operates the private facility under a contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, had consistently denied the existence of any hunger strike last week.
Strikers stated that while Facility Administrator Donald Emerson and prison staff had negotiated and met some of the hunger strike’s initial demands, mainly involving the quality and nutritional value of food available, they had also used retaliatory force. “I got off the hunger strike because they turned the water off,” one participant explained in a letter from Wednesday, April 8th, adding that water is a critical element as his religious practices mandate washing before praying.
This decision to shut off water is doubly alarming at a time when handwashing is widely acknowledged as one of the most crucial components for maintaining public health amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. These concerns are magnified by the news from Monday afternoon that three staff members at the Baldwin prison have now tested positive for COVID-19. Incarcerated people and their supporters have long held that staff are a threatening vector for transmission of the virus to people inside. Men imprisoned at North Lake had previously expressed anxiety over inadequate safety and sanitation measures in the context of the novel coronavirus.
“We knew that this hunger strike had started as a response to appalling conditions that predated the COVID-19 crisis,” said Erin Paskus, a member of No Detention Centers in Michigan. “But those conditions have always been evidence that the GEO Group is unable to keep people safe during a pandemic. As for the Bureau of Prisons, this private facility doesn’t even show up on their online map of COVID-19 cases. The events of the last two weeks have given unmistakable proof of gross mismanagement, neglect, and a lack of transparency. Now we know the virus is inside the facility. We’re calling on the federal government to release people from North Lake today, before it’s too late.”