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Prisoners In Bristol County Launch Hunger Strike In Solidarity With ICE Detainees, Refusing Prepared Meals

Bristolcountyjail.JPG
Bristol County House of Correction
Jonathan Darling/Courtesy, Bristol County Sheriff's Department

Updated at 10:44 a.m. ET

Inmates at the Bristol County House of Corrections in North Dartmouth began a hunger strike Tuesday evening in solidarity with ICE detainees, says Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson.

Hodgson says 71 inmates refused dinner Tuesday night, and another 35 inmates joined them in refusing breakfast Wednesday morning.

ICE detainees in Bristol County were on a hunger strike last week in protest of a lack of medical care, "inedible" food, and other alleged abuses. The sheriff says, news coverage of those strikes led inmates in the general population to refuse meals this week to show their support.

"It's been a consistent problem my clients were faced with, as far as lack of medical treatment," says immigration attorney Val Ribeiro. She currently represents three ICE detainees held in Bristol County, though over the years she has represented many others.

"We kind of have to move mountains to get [Bristol County] to acknowledge it, number one, and to provide them with the proper medication and treatment if necessary," Ribeiro says.

Hodgson denies that there are issues with food or medical care for ICE detainees, saying that all inmates receive the same meals and care.

"We have a nurse in that facility everyday, almost the entire day," Hodgson says. "We have doctors if somebody needs a doctor."

Hodgson blames progressive groups for inciting the protest to advance their political agendas, saying that doing so could have unintended consequences.

"They are exposing my officers, my staff, and the inmates that we have care and custody of to either being seriously hurt or killed as a result of their stirring up these inmates inside our facilities," Hodgson says.

"This is a very dangerous situation," he says of the hunger strike. "When you impact the environment inside a prison, you could set off a riot in a matter of a minute."

The strike continued to grow Wednesday evening when inmates in two other housing units refused the prepared dinner, according to a spokesperson for the sheriff's office. He noted however that the inmates still have access to food from canteens.

"Everyone is eating," Jonathan Darling, the public information officer for the Sheriff's office said. "No one is going hungry."

Advocates dispute that claim, saying that food from the canteens costs money, and many of the inmates don't have it.

“When somebody is on a hunger strike, they’re not buying two dollar ramen noodles from the commissary,” Laura Wagner of the Unitarian Universalist Mass Action Network told me. “They don’t have any money.”

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