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Wisconsin Prisoners' Hunger Strike Continues, Spreads

Coburn Dukehart
Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Prisoners at the Wisconsin facilities in Columbia and Green Bay may be participating in the hunger strike that a few inmates at the Waupun Correctional Institution began on June 5th. They call it their “Dying to Live” campaign and say they are protesting the state’s abuse of solitary confinement.

Chance Zombor served 12 years in Wisconsin prisons. His crimes included armed robbery and battery.

“When things happen behind these prison walls, nobody sees it. It’s like out of sight, out of mind. Largely society sees them as deserving of whatever they  did," says Zombor.

Zombor is not taking part in the hunger strike, but he does attend rallies to support the inmates who are refusing food.

“Prisoners are being held in long-term solitary confinement, which we view as torture. We’ve gotten letters from prisoners saying that they have seen people lose it and just hurt themselves at Waupun correctional institution because the conditions there are just unbearable," he explains.

Zombor says Wisconsin prisons must take mental health issues seriously. 

“The majority of the people in prison, even the people in solitary confinement, will eventually be released into society. Do we really want to be causing these traumas?" Zombor asks.

Dodge County Circuit Court has authorized the force feeding of at least three prisoners taking part in the hunger strike. Yet Zombor does not expect them to give up anytime soon.

The Department of Corrections stated in a release, that it is reforming what it calls “restrictive housing.” Changes include limiting solitary to 90 days and providing mental health checks on those held.

According to the DOC, only 100 inmates out of 22,000 are being held in special confinement, and those are prisoners who repeatedly threaten others.