Picket in Solidarity with the Hunger Strike at Red Onion State Prison

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 25, 2012

CONTACT: NYC Ad-Hoc Committee in Solidarity with the ROSP Hunger Strike, NYCforROSPhungerstrike@yahoo.com, 347-391-1949

What: Informational Picket
Where: 26 Federal Plaza, Manhattan, New York City
When: 3 PM, Friday, May 25, 2012
4, 5, 6 to Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall / J, Z to Chambers Street

NEW YORK CITY – On Friday, May 25 at 3 PM, members of an ad-hoc committee in NYC formed to support the prisoner hunger strike at Virginia’s Red Onion State Prison (ROSP) will hold an informational picket in front of 26 Federal Plaza. The committee calls on all people of conscience to come out.

On Tuesday, May 22, 45 prisoners in at least two segregation pods in Virginia’s Red Onion State Prison (ROSP) began a hunger strike demanding an end to human rights abuses and torture. The prisoners’ demands include an end to torture in the form of indefinite solitary confinement, adequate medical care, access to complaint and grievance forms, access to fully cooked food and basic sanitation, and the presence of third-party neutral observers to document human rights abuses and corruption among prison officials.

ROSP is a supermax prison in southwest Virginia that holds more than two-thirds of the prisoners (more than 500 out of nearly 750) in solitary confinement. Out of the 500 in solitary, more than 170 are mentally ill. State officials claim that the average length of solitary confinement at ROSP is 2.7 years, rising to a maximum of nearly 7 years. Upon investigation, the Washington Post discovered one mentally-ill prisoner who had been in solitary for more than 14 years. For reference, the American Bar Association calls for an end to the solitary confinement of the mentally ill, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed lawsuits against the use of solitary confinement, and United Nations investigators have condemned the practice.

ROSP has earned a reputation for serious human rights abuses and torture. A Human Rights Watch investigation of ROSP found that the conditions at the prison raised “serious human rights concerns,” that the VA Department of Corrections allowed “abusive, degrading or cruel treatment,” that prison staff “use[d] force unnecessarily, excessively, and dangerously,” that conditions were “unnecessarily harsh and degrading,” and that prison staff subjected prisoners to “racist remarks, derogatory language and other demeaning and harassing conduct.”

The hunger strike at ROSP is important not only as a struggle against human rights abuses and torture, but as a part of the larger struggle against the racist system of incarceration. Virginia is coming under increasing pressure to re-examine its practice of solitary confinement, including requests from legal organizations for federal investigations. Despite mounting public pressure, the human rights abuses and torture continues. Between December 2011 and January 2012, Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, a prisoner and founder of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party – Prison Chapter, was physically tortured by prison staff and then transferred out of ROSP to another prison. The hunger strike by the brave prisoners, who will surely find themselves up against repression and continued torture from the prison administration is part of an emerging tide of struggle, inside and outside prison walls, against racist mass incarceration. The prisons themselves have always been an important trench of struggle against exploitation and oppression in this country.

The hunger strikers inside need our full support! All out in solidarity with the prisoners of ROSP!

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