Staffing shortages during the government shutdown are affecting everyone from food stamp recipients to immigrants seeking asylum. Now, some inmates in a federal jail in New York City are responding to cancelled family visits by going on hunger strike.
Sarah Baumgartel, a federal public defender with a client jailed at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, told the New York Times that her client and others went on a hunger strike Monday after their family visits were cancelled for a second week. The visits, she said, were caused by staffing shortages stemming from the shutdown, which is now in its fourth week.
“They have already refused a meal—I believe they refused breakfast and lunch,” Baumgartel told the publication, declining to identify her client. “My client is in the unit, he’s participating.”
Baumgartel said although the protest may only be in one unit for now, her client wanted to take part in the hunger strike “because of the importance of everyone having their visits.”
Prison staffing shortages resulting from President Donald Trump’s government shutdown over his border wall are also affecting remaining staffers’ ability to dispense medications to inmates. The Times reported one prosecutor said during a federal court hearing that his office was told “there are issues with prescribing medication” because of the shutdown.
Other inmates in New York-area prisons are feeling the ill effects of the shutdown as well. At a federal jail in Brooklyn, lawyers haven’t been able to see their clients, they told the Times. Emails sent by the Federal Defenders of New York to federal judges for Brooklyn and Manhattan also said attorneys’ visits to jails have been cancelled entirely or for several hours seven days so far this month.
MCC staffing shortages have also resulted in cancelled or shortened recreation time for inmates, access to doctors, and medical care, Serene Gregg, president of a local chapter of American Federation of Government Employees, which represents MCC employees, told the Times. Gregg said some inmates have asked for medical care and been taken out of their cells but sent back after “nobody is there to see them.”
“There has been some pushback from inmates in terms of eating the meals provided,” Gregg said. “The tensions in the building are very, very high.”
So much for that steak everyone was so worried about.