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80 people in Oregon’s federal prison go on hunger strike over conditions

The Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan.
Ericka Cruz Guevarra/OPB
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The Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan.

Approximately 80 people inside the state’s only federal prison have been on a hunger strike, protesting conditions inside the facility, according to Oregon’s federal public defender.

“We heard last week that some incarcerated people had started a hunger strike, and the government confirmed [Monday] that about 80 people are now participating,” Lisa Hay, the federal public defender, said in a statement.

The hunger strike is in the detention center at the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan, which houses people who have been charged but not convicted of crimes.

Oregon’s U.S. Attorney’s Office would not confirm a hunger strike to OPB.

In a statement Tuesday, the Bureau of Prisons confirmed some people inside the detention center did not accept their meals.

“Numerous inmates assigned to the detention center at Federal Correctional Institution Sheridan did not accept meals prepared by the Bureau of Prisons for several days,” BOP spokesperson Benjamin O’Cone wrote in a statement. “However, during this time, these inmates had access to purchased goods from the commissary for consumption.”

O’Cone also said the men in custody are “currently accepting their meals.”

One incarcerated person told Hay’s staff he and others are on 21-hour lockdown as part of a collective punishment for an alleged fight that happened months ago. Hay declined to identify the man over concerns about retaliation.

Hay has filed dozens of Habeas Corpus petitions, seeking people’s release from the prison over concerns about poor medical care and inmates sometimes spending entire weekends locked in their cells.

During the past two years, Hay’s court filings have documented troubling reports she’s received from people inside, including cancer patients who have not received treatment for months and inmates who say they’ve attempted suicide and have not received the medication or mental health treatment they’ve requested. At least six inmates have died at Sheridan since March 2020. None of the deaths were from COVID-19.

“We continue to be extremely concerned about the conditions experienced by people incarcerated at the federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon,” Hay said in her Monday statement. “The Federal Public Defenders office represents people seeking release from custody because the conditions are so harsh as to be unconstitutional. We had hoped that the existence of these lawsuits would spur reforms within the Bureau of Prisons, but any progress over these last two years has been frustratingly slow.”

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.