Three inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary began a hunger strike this week after being held in solitary confinement past the end of their disciplinary sentences, but officials at the Angola prison say there is no space available for the men in the regular cell blocks.
The inmates have been on strike since Monday, according to Ken Pastorick, spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety and Corrections.
Pastorick said inmates in trouble are placed in separate cell blocks for a length of time set by a "disciplinary sanctions matrix." Once inmates have completed their time in segregation, they are transitioned into an appropriate housing unit.
In this case, an appropriate unit would be the "working cell blocks," where inmates are housed in individual cells but are not in solitary confinement, receiving more time outside and doing work assignments. Pastorick said when bed space is not immediately available, inmates are sometimes kept in the disciplinary segregation unit until space opens up.
He said DOC staff will to monitor the inmates in disciplinary segregation and have medical staff visit the inmates to ensure they are receiving proper attention.
Prisoner rights advocates with the Louisiana Stop Solitary Coalition are slamming the department for failing to treat inmates humanely.
"Having served 44 plus years in solitary confinement, I am fully aware of the brutality of solitary. Hunger strikes are brutal, so I know from personal experience how desperate these men must be to resort to this," said Albert Woodfox, who was released from Angola in 2016 after spending decades in solitary.
DOC leaders have themselves acknowledged that solitary confinement has been overused in the past and pledged their commitment to reducing the practice. A 2019 report found that the use of disciplinary segregation in Louisiana prisons was well above the national average. Officials promised to change some practices based on those findings. The authors defined solitary confinement as any solo housing units where inmates were confined for an average of 22 hours per day.
"We call on DOC to transfer people out of solitary immediately and follow the disciplinary matrix. It's 2021, how can our people still suffer from these inhuman conditions?" said Kiana Calloway with the New Orleans advocacy group VOTE. "They're sacrificing their life to be heard. Lets make sure DOC listens."
Louisiana state prisons have over-relied on solitary confinement and have been employing troubling and inconsistent practices in recent years,…