Today at noon, over one hundred people being detained in the West Coast’s largest immigration prison in Tacoma — the Northwest Detention Center — launched a hunger strike in response to inhumane living conditions at the prison.
Detainees refusing their lunches circulated a letter of demand regarding violations of what most Washington residents would consider basic human rights.
The motive that we write this is to ask you by favor that we all participate united, and on Monday April 10, 2017, from noon and on we will not eat, or use the phones, neither will we bunk up on the late night count or lights out. The objective is to reach some changes in the institution which are the following:
- Change the food (menu)
- Lower the commissary (reasonable pries)
- Better hygiene (with the clothes)
- Increase rec-time
- Bring programs such as: school and program to keep our heads occupied and avoid depression mentally
- Better medical attention
- Increase wages for working detainees (waxing floors, painting, cleaning, cooking, laundry)
- Facilitate court proceedings (speed up the process).
Please we ask for our help and participation.
Because it is not just for them to treat out the way they want without them respecting our rights! And if we speak up we don’t speak up we’ll always be the same. Thank you!
— English translation of hunger strike letter
According to a statement issued by the NWDC Resistance (an activist group focused on fighting deportations and addressing inhumane detention conditions), detainees are seeking “more expedited hearings, improved quality of food, improved access to medical care, and lowering of exorbitant commissary prices.”
Detainees currently receive $1 a day for maintaining the prison and its services. Detainees are even denied this at times receiving, for example, a bag of chips for nights’ worth of work. Earlier this year, a People’s Tribunal held a hearing at the prison to better evaluate conditions. The tribunal found that detainees had no access to soap and clothing, that people have died in the prison from lack of medical care, people have died after deportation from the same lack of medical care, and that detainees are often exposed to hazardous chemicals in their work.
The NWDC is a for-profit prison owned by the GEO Group which has a record of mistreating its employees as well as its detainees.
Last autumn, GEO Group workers in Tacoma conducted an “informational strike” decrying the NWDC’s mandatory overtime, lack of sick days, and low wages.
This is not the first time detainees have protested appalling, immoral conditions at NWDC. In 2014, six years into Barack Obama’s presidency, detainees at NWDC held an internationally-recognized hunger strike that lasted fifty-six days.
Three years later, detainees continue to assert their humanity in the face of greed and injustice. According to the NWDC Resistance, conditions are only getting worse now that the federal government is controlled by the right wing. The underlying problem is bigger than the partisan political climate, but impacted by it nonetheless.
Concerned residents and activists gathered around the facility at noon to show solidarity with the detainees. The NWDC Resistance’s announcement states: “We know from past hunger strikes that ICE and GEO are quick to retaliate, and we want the hunger strikers to know that they are not alone.”
NPI is strongly opposed to private prisons and supports efforts to transfer detainees and inmates to corrections facilities that are publicly owned and operated.
For those looking to join in solidarity with the strikers, the NWDC Resistance Facebook page offers news on the strike and support opportunities.