Inmates at Washington State Penitentiary began a hunger strike Easter Sunday, according to prison officials.
Five units, comprising roughly 800 inmates, did not come to lunch at 11 a.m. Sunday, according to Allison Window, public information officer at the Penitentiary. Inmates did not come to Sunday dinner, nor breakfast this morning.
Window said prison officials are investigating specific inmate demands and would not confirm a motivation for the hunger strike.
Brian Maguire, a retired correctional programs manager from the local prison, was in charge of much of the prison’s food for 14 years after 17 years as a corrections officer.
In an interview with the Union-Bulletin, Maguire said the quality of the prison food has declined significantly since state officials began telling food managers to source ingredients and products from food processing centers run by the business arm of the Washington Department of Corrections.
Units participating in the hunger strike include the Victor and William units, as well as the Delta, Echo and Golf units.
Many inmates, including those in the east wing of the prison where minimum-security inmates are housed, continue to take their meals as normal, Window said this morning.
The prison is operating normally, though slower than usual for safety reasons, and there has been no reported violence, Window said.
Rumors of a coming hunger strike had made the rounds at the prison for at least a week. Window said prison officials were aware in advance that some sort of action was being planned.
It remains unclear how long inmates plan to continue the hunger strike. Officials are monitoring the situation and meeting with inmates to make sure that everyone is “OK,” Window said. The prison has developed a “contingency plan,” but Window could not specify its nature.
Correctional Industries is the business arm of the state Department of Corrections. It operates food factories at Coyote Creek and Airway Heights Correction Centers.
Maguire said the Penitentiary began transitioning more and more to food sourced through Correctional Industries in the mid-2000s, and that the food is unpopular among inmates.