Top Democratic lawmakers have promised to hold hearings on the state prison system’s solitary confinement practices. And that’s what the hunger strikers and their supporters are pointing to as proof the strike has made a difference.
“We have to ensure that the system and the conditions do in fact change, and that they change sooner, not later – that they change now, not tomorrow,” says Barbara Bechnel, a member of the strikers’ mediation team.
But Dana Simas with the state Corrections Department says it’s not possible to close the solitary confinement unit known as the SHU. And she couldn’t name a single change the state made in response to the strike that hadn’t already been made before it began.
“We’re still a correctional department, and we have to maintain public safety. That’s number one, and we can’t budge if safety is at risk,” Simas says.
The state says 100 inmates were participating when the strike came to an end. At its peak, it says, the strikers numbered 12,000.