PRESS RELEASE: As New Warden Imposes Harsh Conditions at Baldwin’s Immigrant Prison, Hunger Strikes Grow Larger in Restricted Unit

For immediate release: 8/12/2020

On Wednesday, August 5th, more than two dozen people held in the Restricted Housing Unit (or RHU) at the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan launched the largest hunger strike to have taken place in that unit since the prison’s reopening last October. The strike, which has continued into the current week, came in response to longstanding discriminatory treatment as well as strict rules imposed by the facility’s new acting warden, Angela Dunbar. Appointed this summer as a replacement for Warden Donald Emerson, Dunbar has implemented harsh limits on phone access at a time when those in the RHU face an urgent need to communicate with loved ones.

“Initially there was only three inmates in the Restricted Housing Unit that wasn’t participating,” one of the strikers said on Monday, August 10th. “Latinos as well as Black as well as white. Everybody’s on the hunger strike for the purpose of [addressing] human rights violations. We got kids, we got brothers, we got sisters, mothers, fathers that we need to touch base with, and friends. Instead of making some accommodations allowing us to communicate effectively with our families, they have taken those rights away from us.”

North Lake is a private facility owned and managed by the Florida-based GEO Group on behalf of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, holding non-U.S. citizens convicted of federal crimes. A group of around a dozen Black men have been confined to the RHU since March, following a fight in which they were not involved. This is the fifth hunger strike in which they have taken part over the last six months in response to racist repression, unacceptable living conditions and religious discrimination, and the sixth hunger strike to occur at North Lake overall in that time. Two people from the unit have been placed on suicide watch within the last month.

Strikers strongly suspect that Warden Emerson’s departure from the facility is connected to public awareness of their mistreatment and Emerson’s mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis, yet they say the new warden is trying to make conditions even worse. “The warden has made changes with the phone. But it is her rules and not GEO’s rules,” another participant stated last week, referring to a new policy limiting those in the RHU to one 15-minute non-legal call every 30 days. “In the inmate handbook it states that inmates in general population and inmates in Administrative Detention should have the same privileges. The warden took away those privileges, and I have not done anything to lose those privileges.” (The inmate handbook for North Lake affirms: “To the extent practical, inmates in Administrative Segregation shall be provided with the same general privileges as inmates in general population.”)

“We’re demanding to be transferred; if they can’t transfer us, then to accommodate us in a way where we could deal with this a little bit better under the circumstances,” one of the men in the RHU said on Monday. “I feel like I do deserve the same rights as any other human, the same rights as any other prisoner across the country. Under no circumstances will I eat, unless they can accommodate us or get us out of here.”

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