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Hunger strike at Riverside jail continues into sixth day

A hunger strike at Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside continued into its sixth day on Thursday, April 20, as inmates denounced policies they considered unfair.
Assistant Sheriff Jerry Gutierrez of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said about 27 inmates in the administrative segregation, or ad-seg, unit were participating in the strike as of Thursday. He said the number has fluctuated since the strike began.
They are participating in the hope that administrators will end certain policies, including limited phone access and little day room time. They are also asking that solitary confinement policies be revised, according to the website of Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, which seeks to “amplify the voices” of California inmates as they go on hunger strikes.
Gutierrez said that so far, no one who has participated in the strike has exhibited medical issues.
“All of the ones that are participating in this are being evaluated daily by medical and health staff,” he said.
Nancy Markham, wife of strike organizer Rigoberto Villanueva, said she has concerns that six days of not eating has started to negatively impact her husband’s health. She said he has been feeling weak and has had difficulty standing up.
“He’s not gonna stop, and that’s what kind of worries me,” she said. “Because he’ll keep going and how long can somebody really go without eating?”
She said that she believes punitive actions have been taken against Villanueva and other participants in the strike — that they have not been able to access the commissary to purchase items and have been denied visits.
Gutierrez denied those allegations on Thursday, saying inmates have access to the commissary. He noted that one day during the strike, inmates did not receive visitors, but that was because of a malfunctioning elevator.
One of the specific things inmates would like to see changed is access to the day room for at least an hour a day, according to the strike solidarity site.
In a previous interview with The Press-Enterprise, Gutierrez said ad-seg inmates are let out to use the day room for at least 30 minutes as part of a rotation, but could be let out twice in a day.
The inmates are also calling for an end to policies which limit phone access. Gutierrez said the phones might be turned off for periods of time as a safety precaution as people are transferred to other facilities.
“A lot of the policies they’re complaining about, they’re put in place for the safety and security of everyone at the jail,” he said. “… We have a responsibility to maintain safety and we take it seriously.”
Markham said she hopes that at the very least, the inmates’ actions spark a conversation about such policies.
This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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