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Jul 23, 20

Lane County Jail Hunger Strike Enters Week 5: Minor Concessions Won As Second Case of Covid-19 Confirmed

Report on ongoing hunger strike in Lane County which is entering its fifth week. Includes interviews with inmates and how you can support their struggle.

Eugene, OR – The Lane County Jail Hunger Strike enters into its 29th day and fifth week as at least five pre-trial detainees continue to strike (with reports of five others striking and between 15 and 20 participants in total) demanding the release of all pre-trial and medically vulnerable detainees state-wide, in solidarity with hunger strikers elsewhere and with the most vulnerable and marginalized people incarcerated without the ability to fight for their lives.

In a win for the Hunger Strike, jail officials are now taking the threat of Covid-19 more seriously. Guards and jail medical staff are now wearing masks with increased frequency. Detainees in the jail also have received access for the first time to cleaning supplies. Additionally, those moving through the jail are now tested more consistently. LCMA has also received reports that in person lawyer visitations and religious services have been reinstated, but only for a select few detainees.

This is the most minimal concession the jail could make to the strikers’ demands, but it shows that the jail is caving under the pressure of the strike and community support of the strikers––or else, reacting far too late to the threat of Covid-19 only once it has become present in the jail for the second time.

Although Lane County Jail has not conveyed this, Lane County Mutual Aid has received reports from two anonymous sources that the second positive case of Covid-19 has been confirmed in the jail. It was reported that negative pressure cells (normally for tuberculosis patients––the Jail has two) were in operation over the weekend, with guards outfitted in full PPE. Additionally, it was reported that the incarcerated person who had tested positive has since been released into the community.

Strikers are now shifting their demands from focusing on the jail to applying increased pressure on the court system and state governance. While the jail is doing the bare minimum to mitigate the deadly effects of Covid-19 in incarceration, only the establishment of full preventative measures will ensure the safety of incarcerated people in the state of Oregon. This includes, first and foremost, the immediate release of all pre-trial and medically vulnerable detainees. While the jail has apparently conceded to basic Covid-19 mitigations that should have been implemented months ago, prevention of Covid-19 at a systemic level requires much further, tangible action, reflected in the updated demands.

Excessive bail, emergency orders to extend the limit of pre-trial detention from 60 to 180 days and beyond, and the racist, classist, and sexist criminalization of poverty, houselessness, and other easily preventable social injustices affirmed in the latest iteration of Eugene’s Community Safety Initiative and the Eugene Police Department’s 21st Century Policing ordinances––all of which disappear behind bars our most marginalized, especially BIPOC, community members––only reinforce the vulnerability of incarcerated people to a deadly pandemic and the everyday violence of incarceration.

The updated demands of the strikers are as follows:

– Courts release all pre-trial and medically vulnerable detainees

– The right to a fair and speedy trial as guaranteed by the constitution

– Greatly diminished bail and bonds

– The right for all of those detained to in person, behind-glass social visits with friends and family

– The right for all of those detained to in person visits with lawyers at the behest of detainees or their lawyers

– Access to religious services for all o­­­­f those detained

As the Lane County Jail Hunger Strike entered Week 5 at 5PM Sunday, July 19, Lane County Mutual Aid concluded their Week of Action in solidarity and support of hunger strikers with a night of poetry reading and EPD complaint reading. Along with letter writing, phone zaps, email zaps, marches, noise demonstrations, email campaigns, an open letter to Gov. Kate Brown, and other actions, community support of the strike has been growing steadily and strongly. Further actions are planned going forward into Week 5 of the Hunger Strike. ­­

For more information, follow and contact Lane County Hunger Strike on Twitter.

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