April 05, 2020

State prison inmates stage hunger strike

THOMASTON – On the heels of an apparent suicide at the Maine State Prison earlier this month, two more inmates have attempted to kill themselves and 13 prisoners began a hunger strike.

By noon Wednesday, five inmates had opted out of the strike, leaving eight prisoners refusing to eat. Those inmates are being monitored by medical and mental health staff, Warden Jeffrey Merrill said Wednesday.

In the past week, two more prisoners in the special management unit attempted suicide. Unlike, Ryan Rideout, 25, who hanged himself Oct. 5 from a sprinkler head with a bedsheet, the two unidentified prisoners were unsuccessful.

Merrill did not have the ages of the men immediately available late Wednesday. One prisoner tried to strangle himself with a string Friday and the other inmate cut himself Monday morning with a sharp object. There have been additional threats of suicide, he said. Both men received medical and mental health care and are on a constant suicide watch, according to the warden.

The special management unit for high risk inmates has a capacity for 50 prisoners and is nearly full, he said.

Because of the suicide attempts, safety measures have been taken to minimize the chances of injuries, such as replacing short-handled toothbrushes with toothbrushes that fit over the fingertip. Normally, prisoners’ toothbrush handles are only 4 inches long, but they still can be fashioned into shanks, Merrill said.

Shaving razors have been taken away and inmates’ cells are being checked every 15 minutes rather than every half-hour. The inmates refusing to eat are upset about the security restrictions, he said.

“What we’ve taken is precautions,” Merrill said. “Right now, our concern is for their safety.”

Additional staff has been called in for the situation, and mental health and medical workers are talking with the striking prisoners.

Hunger strikes are “not uncommon,” Merrill said. “It’s a way for them to demonstrate peacefully.”

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