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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Inmates at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center on hunger strike over quality of breakfast food

Airway Heights Correction Center inmates pictured Monday, July 9, 2018 handle orange muffins that are shipped to prisons across Washington. On Friday, inmates at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell went on a hunger strike over the quality of food served at breakfast. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

A majority of inmates at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell have launched a hunger strike.

The strike started Friday, mostly in protest of the quality of food served at breakfast, said inmate Michael Linear, who has spent the past seven years in the medium-security prison. Most of the food inmates are protesting is produced in Airway Heights.

“The inmates up here, they want to be able to have hot breakfast once again,” he said. “Now we’re on day five up here.”

Linear said 90 percent of the prison’s roughly 2,000 inmates were participating in the peaceful strike. However, Jeremy Barclay, spokesman for Department of Corrections, said Tuesday it wasn’t 90 percent, but was “a majority.”

The prison reported 1,371 inmates joined the strike on Friday, while 1,803 went with a meal on Saturday, and 1,636 on Sunday. Monday saw 1,721 inmates on strike. On average, that’s 79 percent of the prison’s inmates.

Barclay said the strike began after breakfast service on Friday, and only included a boycott on provided meals – meaning any food items bought at a commissary were still being bought and eaten.

He said Robert Herzog, the assistant secretary for prisons at DOC, was meeting with inmate representatives Monday and again on Tuesday.

Linear said in 2015, prison staff at Coyote Ridge replaced hot breakfast with what inmates call “breakfast boats” – a boxed meal, usually with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a muffin, bran bar, cereal and powdered milk.

“All we’re getting is sugar,” Linear said. “Sugar for breakfast.”

Loretta Rafay, an activist at Prison Voice Washington – an advocacy group that’s pushing to reform Washington’s prison food system – said issues with food quality have been an ongoing issue statewide.

However, she said her group was aware that Correctional Industries – the DOC’s business division that produces and distributes food, among other products – was working to phase out breakfast boats in the next couple of years.

Inmates at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla went on a similar strike last year, when hundreds of inmates refused to eat on April 1 after complaining about the quality of food. The strike ended on April 12 after prison officials relented and agreed to again serve some hot meals.

A 2018 Spokesman-Review inquiry into prison food practices showed a majority of the food that goes into breakfast boats served in Washington prisons is made at the Airway Heights Corrections Center in Airway Heights. There, dozens of inmates churn out tens of thousands of prepackaged meals a year.