New hunger strike at North Lake Correctional Facility as more than 60 inmates recover from COVID-19

May 19, 2020

Protesters stand outside North Lake Correctional Facility on its opening day as a federal prison for immigrants Oct. 1, 2019
Credit Taylor Wizner / Interlochen Public Radio

Clarification 5/21: The following story was edited to clarify statements made by GEO Group. A representative from GEO Group says the company has not been aware of any hunger strikes at North Lake Correctional Facility and that the prisoners' allegations are false. 

Update 5/21: No Detention Centers in Michigan says the North Lake inmates ended their hunger strike on Monday after some situations improved.

About a dozen incarcerated immigrants started a new hunger strike on Friday at the North Lake Correctional Facility to protest their treatment. The activist group No Detention Centers in Michigan reported it’s the fourth strike they’ve been alerted to at the Baldwin facility in the last three months.

The striking inmates say they have been in the prison’s solitary confinement Special Housing Unit since March. They allege prison staff deny them access to their mail — including time sensitive legal documents — withhold kosher meals cooked to their religious preferences and destroy their complaint paperwork. 

No Detention Centers in Michigan spokesperson JR Martin says one of the strikers told the group the prison is an unsafe and chaotic environment, where prison staff retaliate and discriminate against the predominantly black inmates in the Special Housing Unit.

North Lake is a federal prison that holds non-U.S. citizens convicted of federal crimes.

GEO Group, the private company that runs the prison, says it is not aware of any hunger strikes at the facility and strongly rejects all the prisoners’ claims. It says outside groups are trying to advance a political agenda. 

 

In a statement to IPR, GEO Group spokesperson Pablo Paez says inmates are provided meals that fit their religious practices.

“The Facility delivers high quality food services with three daily meals based on menus which address a variety of dietary and religious preferences or needs,” Paez wrote in an email statement.

 

The company says allegations about complaint paperwork and mail delivery are untrue.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons, which oversees privately-operated federal prisons like North Lake, refused to comment on the strike.

“The Bureau of Prisons is not commenting on specific conditions or operations at a privately contracted prison other than to confirm that the BOP's COVID-19 guidance is being shared with private prisons for dissemination to staff and inmates in these facilities so that similar protocols can be implemented,” spokesperson Justin Long said in an email statement. 

As of Friday afternoon, 75 inmates and employees tested positive for COVID-19 and have recovered. GEO Group says eight more of its positive employees are still in quarantine. Earlier in May, inmates told IPR and No Detention Centers that more than 100 North Lake prisoners participated in another hunger strike to protest the lack of coronavirus protections and testing.