Prison officials say 2 remain on hunger strike

The Department of Corrections acknowledged Monday that a hunger strike at the Georgia Diagnostic & Classification Prison is ongoing, but said prison officials have not mistreated any inmates or violated any procedures. The department also said that as of July 17, only two inmates were refusing food.

The department also denied accusations that it misled The Atlanta Journal-Constitution when it told the newspaper that the hunger strike, which began June 10, ended on July 6.

"The department can confirm that the hunger strike involving 10 inmates ended on July 6, 2012," spokeswoman Gwendolyn Hogan said in an email. But, she added, "On July 8, 2012, Miguel Jackson with seven inmates resumed the strike."

Jackson, who contends that he was beaten by prison guards at Smith State Prison and then deprived of proper medical care at GDC, has led the hunger strike.

Jackson's wife, his attorney and a friend of inmate Dexter Shaw say that the men and 10 to 12 other inmates have been on a continuous hunger strike since June 10. Only two inmates have given up on the strike, they said.

"I think they're being deceptive," Delma Jackson said Monday of the Department of Corrections. "I think they're trying to get people thrown off track. They know it's in full force."

Supporters of the inmates demonstrated outside the department's Forsyth headquarters Monday, calling on Commissioner Brian Owens to consider the inmates' demands.

"Adequate medical care, 30-day review [of their imprisonment in the Special Management Unit], access to the commissary and personal hygiene items, restored visitation, being able to call home more than once a month, exercise once per day," Jackson said, listing the demands.

She added, "All the things he's asking for are in their standard procedure. He's not asking for anything out of the unusual."

Owens has not personally responded to the inmates' supporters, but the department responded to their claims and demands in a statement to the AJC.

"Visitation privileges have been restricted for Miguel Jackson as well as all inmates involved in the hunger strike," Hogan said. "Visitation privileges have been restricted to attorney visits only."

The DOC spokeswoman also acknowledged that exercise time for the hunger striking inmates has been restricted, but pointed to health concerns as the reason.

"Inmate Jackson's recreation privileges along with all inmates involved in the hunger strike have been placed on hold," Hogan said. "Doctors have stated that inmates on hunger strike should not receive outside recreation because it could increase the possibility of dehydration and expedite harmful health conditions due to the high temperatures."

As for the inmates' demand that they receive a 30-day review of their stay in administrative segregation, Hogan said that the inmates are "not in administrative segregation or in solitary confinement" and are "therefore are not receiving a 30 day review."

Instead, Hogan said, the inmates are "assigned to a Special Management Unit at the Georgia Diagnostic & Classification Prison," where they would receive five hours of recreation time per week if not for the hunger strike.

Attorney Mario Williams, who represents hunger strike leader Jackson, also represents an inmate named Shawn Whatley. Williams said that GDC has mistreated Whatley, following him with a video camera, denying him showers for weeks at a time, and wrongfuly restricting his visitation priveleges.

Hogan said that department records indicate that Whatley has been receiving three showers per week. Williams said this raises the possibility that prison officials have broken the law by making false statements on official documents.

As for videotaping Whatley, Hogan said, "Inmate Whatley is routinely videotaped during his movement throughout the facility as a precaution."

She confimed that his visitation priveleges have been restricted.

"Inmate Whatley's visitation privileges were removed by Department officials in November 2011 due to his involvement and participation in anti-prison demonstrations," Hogan said.

The department gave no indication that it plans to change course, nor have the inmates and their supporters. Both sides acknowledged that the hunger strike was ongoing as of July 17.