Upset with breakfast, more than 1,500 Connell inmates stage food strike

More than 1,000 inmates at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center near Connell began a food strike Friday.
More than 1,000 inmates at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center near Connell began a food strike Friday. Tri-City Herald

More than 1,500 inmates at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center are refusing to eat their prison meals because they’re unhappy about their breakfasts.

Lori Wonders, spokeswoman for the state prison in Connell, confirmed that over half the men held at Coyote Ridge began refusing prison-provided food at lunch Friday.

Of the 2,065 men incarcerated there, 1,371 refused prison-provided meals on Friday, 1,803 on Saturday and 1,636 on Sunday.

Wonders said the participants are refusing the meals but are still eating food they bought with their own money at the commissary.

Uneaten meals are being composted. Wonders said the prison will continue to offer breakfast, lunch and dinner for each prisoner.

Prison director meeting

Robert Herzog, assistant secretary for corrections for the state prison system, was traveling to Connell on Monday for a late afternoon meeting with inmate leaders.

Wonders said the food strike is nonviolent and the prison is not on lockdown.

However, Wonders said the corrections staff is monitoring the situation, including the health of inmates.

Wonders said elderly inmates and those with health issues seemed to still be eating the provided meals.

The food strike appears to center, at least partly, on the prison practice of distributing cold breakfast items in a “boat” shaped container at dinnertime the night before.

Gail Eddy, a Tacoma area resident whose boyfriend is serving a three-year sentence for drug-related offenses at Coyote Ridge, confirmed that the “breakfast boats” are central to the dispute.

But she said inmates also are unhappy that sex offenders are housed in the general population and that their access to outdoor time is often cut short or eliminated.

Eddy, who speaks with her boyfriend by phone several times a day, said inmates who refuse to share a cell with sex offenders can be sent into isolation cells as punishment.

Breakfast boats

The breakfast boat includes a bran muffin, a protein bar, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a packet of cereal or oatmeal accompanied by powdered milk.

The items are packed into a boat-shaped container in a bag and given to prisoners with their evening meal for them to eat the following morning.

Eddy claimed prisoners haven’t had a hot breakfast since 2014.

Coyote Ridge isn’t the only place where the breakfast boat triggered food quality complaints. Last spring, prisoners at the Walla Walla State Penitentiary staged a similar food strike.

Prison Voice Washington, which advocates for humane treatment of the 18,000 people in state custody, called on the state to revisit how it feeds prisoners. The 2016 report, Correcting Food Policy in Washington Prisons, was written by a prison spouse.

The report traces food quality issues to the state’s move from serving prison-raised food cooked at the site to a central commissary with kitchens at Airway Heights and Coyote Ridge.

It singles out the breakfast boat as particularly unhealthy for its high amounts of starches, sugar and fat.

Mission to rehabilitate

A spokeswoman for Prison Voice Washington said she hadn’t heard about a food strike at Coyote Ridge, but said food has become a big issue since the state moved to truck in prepackaged meals.

Eddy said she understands people may be unsympathetic.

But she said the issues that led to the food strike create tension inside the prison, defeating the state’s mission to rehabilitate offenders so they can succeed when they’re released.

“Taxpayers don’t want to pay taxes for a prison not to try to rehabilitate the criminal,” she said.

Wendy Culverwell writes about local government and politics, focusing on how those decisions affect your life. She also covers key business and economic development changes that shape our community. Her restaurant column and health inspection reports are reader favorites. She’s been a news reporter in Washington and Oregon for 25 years.