200 Rikers Inmates Stage Hunger Strike to Protest ‘Unhygienic’ Conditions

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Roughly 200 detainees at Rikers Island are refusing meals provided by the Department of Correction, continuing a protest that began on January 8th, 2021 that seeks to highlight poor, unhygienic conditions and frequent violence at the New York City prison, reports the New York Times. The protesters, who say they have not been allowed outside for weeks, described dangerous conditions as the temperature has dropped amid an ongoing cold spike in the northeast and said Covid-19 is spreading throughout the facility, with over 370 detainees recently testing positive for the virus, and less than half of the total population being fully vaccinated.

About 5,400 people are currently being held at the facility, the vast majority of them pretrial detainees who have not been found guilty. An unidentified jails official said that the dormitories housing the protesting detainees were under quarantine for Covid-19, which had restricted them from leaving their housing areas, while a spokesman for the Department of Correction, Jason Kersten, said that there was no hunger strike, pointing out that inmates are still getting food from the commissary. Detainees said that they were not being granted access to recreational programming or the law library and that violence was rampant in the facility, known as the R.N.D.C., which houses a large number of young people, is one of eight active jail buildings on Rikers Island, and represents one of a number of assignments that correction officers seek to avoid.

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