A food strike by inmates at the prison in Connell entered its sixth day Wednesday as a state official held a series of meetings with prisoner representatives.
Karen Takacs, spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Corrections, said Rob Herzog, the assistant secretary of prisons, is at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center and held several meetings with what the prison system calls “tier representatives.”
Those are inmates chosen to represent each housing unit in discussions with prison managers.
Takacs said Herzog is trying to determine what caused many of the Coyote Ridge inmates to refuse prison-provided breakfasts, lunches and dinners starting Friday.
The participants have been eating food they bought at the commissary, while the state meals that aren’t eaten are being composted.
1,600 refuse prison food
At Coyote Ridge, the number of people refusing to eat the prison-supplied meals fluctuates daily, but of the 2,065 prisoners, 1,671 refused meals Tuesday.
Gail Eddy, a Tacoma-area resident whose boyfriend is serving a three-year sentence for drug-related crimes, told the Tri-City Herald earlier this week that prisoners are protesting the prepackaged meals, as well being housed with sex offenders and irregular access to yard time.
Eddy said Wednesday her boyfriend reports inmates are encouraged by the prison’s response to their concerns.
She said prisoners have been told they will have the option to move to different cells to avoid being housed with a sex offender or anyone considered a threat.
“Changes are being made slowly,” she told the Herald.
Cold ‘breakfasts boats’
Breakfasts are a key sticking point, she said.
Starting in 2014, the prison began distributing “breakfast boats” at dinner time for prisoners to eat in the morning. The meal includes a muffin, breakfast bar, peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a packet of oatmeal or cereal and packet of dried milk.
The packaged breakfasts are part of a shift to prepackaged food that began in the 1990s as a cost-saving measure.
Prisons now buy food from the prison-run Correctional Industries with kitchens in Spokane and Connell, delivering to prisons statewide.
Health and medical issue
Word of the food strike inspired more than 220 comments on the Tri-City Herald’s Facebook page. Most were unsympathetic.
“They’ll get over it. Or they won’t. Their choice. This isn’t the Ritz,” wrote one commenter.
“We really need a ‘So What’ Emoji,” said another.
But prison advocates counter that prepackaged meals are packed with sugar, fat and carbohydrates and run counter to the prison systems’ rehabilitation mission.
Prison Voice Washington published a report documenting the lack of access to healthy food in Correcting Food Policy in Washington Prisons in 2016.
The report concludes that food served and sold to the 18,000 people incarcerated in Washington state prisons will lead to unnecessary health issues and costly medical care. The system violates an executive order that set healthy nutrition guidelines for state institutions, it said.