Inmates in solitary confinement at the Maine State Prison who had been refusing meals since Monday ended their hunger strike on Thursday morning, the Maine Department of Corrections said.

Four prisoners held in the Administrative Control Unit began the week refusing meals, and as many as five of the nine people in the unit participated in the protest. By Wednesday morning, the number of striking prisoners at the Warren prison was down to two.

The hunger strike was first publicized by the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition, which has been in touch with some of the prisoners.

The unit, which holds as many as 15 people, averaged about 12 in October, according to data provided by the state, but it was unclear how long each stay lasted.

The prisoners demanded more phone calls, access to religious services, and educational and rehabilitative programming while locked inside the prison’s most restrictive unit, where advocates say they are cut off from human contact for at least 22 hours each day.

It’s unclear if prison officials agreed to any of the demands. But a corrections spokesperson said the strike ended when one prisoner voiced a desire to join a policy working group that includes inmates and is focused on restrictive housing.

“Prison staff worked with him on understanding the involvement process and facilitating his participation, which the MDOC welcomes,” Anna Black, director of governmental affairs for the Maine Department of Corrections, said in a statement.

Some in the unit have spent months or years there, said Jan Collins, a Wilton-based prisoner advocate. One man, Zachary Swain, who is serving seven years for a stabbing, has spent much of the last five years in some form of segregated isolation despite serious mental health problems, Collins said.

In her statement, Black spoke of how the prison handled the hunger strike.

“Facility staff and participating residents remained in open communication throughout the three days,” she wrote. “The department ensured residents were safe, with medical and behavioral health staff regularly evaluating and monitoring.”

The protest occurred as a Portland legislator is pursuing legislation to end solitary confinement in the state. When the Legislature reconvenes in 2022, Portland Rep. Grayson Lookner is expected to take up a new version of a bill held over from last session that calls for an end to the practice, said Peter Lehman, the legislative coordinator for the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition.

Defining solitary confinement can be difficult. States have adopted various rules barring certain practices. In New York, for instance, a measure signed into law in 2021 limits restrictive confinement to 17 hours locked in each day, for a maximum of 15 days – at which point other requirements to provide assistance kick in.


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