Forty-two inmates in a maximum-security Utah prison are starting their fourth day on a hunger strike, telling officials they won't eat until living conditions are improved.
With the hunger strike, which started Friday at Utah State Prison, inmates are protesting policies that keep them in their cells for 47 out of every 48 hours, according to the ACLU of Utah. They are denied any kind of opportunities to work or take classes while in prison, and object to what they say are dirty cells and insufficient meals.
“We have had enough of these squalid living conditions and would like to be treated with respect and dignity, with the opportunity to better ourselves,” one prisoner wrote to the ACLU.
The inmates, who the state Department of Corrections says are all former gang members, also demand that officials move gang leaders to a different part of the prison.
While the inmates aren't in solitary confinement—they each have one cellmate—they say the conditions in the prison are taking a toll on them. “This place is psychologically damaging… We want to change for the better of the community, but we can’t get any programming to better ourselves,” another inmate told the ACLU.
The department said in a press release that it would continue to offer the prisoners three meals a day and monitor their health vitals. "While we respect the right of these inmates to refuse to eat, we believe there are more positive ways to raise concerns and bring about change," spokesperson Brooke Adams told the Salt Lake Tribune.
Prison officials have the legal ability to force-feed prisoners, thanks to a bill that was signed in 2012 after a schizophrenic prisoner refused to eat and died of starvation. But in order to do so, the prison would have to petition a court and hold a hearing for each inmate.
A statewide hunger strike in California in the summer of 2013 successfully forced officials to review solitary confinement policies. That strike, coordinated by four inmates in solitary, at one point involved 30,000 inmates.
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.