Detainees at Dartmouth immigration detention center went on hunger strike

Jul 23, 2018

Detainees being held at the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office’s Dartmouth immigration detention center went on a hunger strike last week, although exactly how many detainees participated and its duration is unclear.

Two officials with knowledge of the hunger strike provided conflicting reports about the hunger strike. It was first publicized by Families for Freedom, a New York-based nonprofit organization which seeks to abolish ICE.

According to a press release issued by the organization, the hunger strike began on July 17 with at least 60 detainees involved. The detainees demanded improvements to medical care, food, and lower commissary and phone prices, alleging they are being served moldy food, face long waits for medical care -- including for a detainee in a wheelchair with a spinal condition -- and have to pay exorbitant prices to make phone calls and buy goods in the jail’s commissary.

Bristol County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Jonathan Darling provided a different account of the hunger strike. He said approximately 60 detainees housed inside the department’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center refused to eat their lunch and declared the start of a hunger strike on July 18.

Six detainese ate dinner that night, and on July 19 six to 10 detainees ate breakfast. Darling said the hunger strike ended when all of the detainees ate their lunch that day.

Families for Freedom issued an updated press release on July 20 indicating a second wave of 72 detainees housed in a different block joined the strike. However, Darling said the second hunger strike never officially began.

Darling said there was an attempt to start a second hunger strike on July 20, when about 62 detainees housed in a unit inside the main jail planned to not eat their lunch. After meeting with staff to discuss their issues, the hunger strike did not proceed, he said.

Families for Freedom officials said information regarding the hunger strike and conditions inside the detention facility was obtained by speaking with detainees in the jail through phone calls. However, Darling disputed those allegations.

“All of the things [in the press release] are not true,” Darling said.

He said detainees are able to see doctors and nurses, and specifically stated the wheelchair-bound detainee sees a nurse every day for his condition. He also said that meals are prepared by a nutritionist and meet FDA guidelines and are not moldy and rotten.

Although Darling said the prices of goods in the jail’s commissary are higher than in Walmart, he said that is common practice in correctional settings, as are the prices of phone calls.

The person who organized the first hunger strike was written up for inciting others to participate, Darling said.

“It can add stress to the population, it can cause violence, disturbances, and security issues,” Darling said. He added that hunger strikes with multiple people participating are rare, but are taken seriously.