For the second time in less than a year, immigrant detainees have started a hunger strike inside Theo Lacy jail in Orange. The Weekly received word today that the action began with as many as 52 detainees refusing meals. While the Orange County Sheriff's Department confirmed the hunger strike started yesterday at breakfast, it claims that the number of people participating in it has already dwindled from about 20 down to just one.
Either way, the strike aimed at bringing attention to poor conditions at the jail continues. Detainees reportedly started the action after being denied air conditioning during prolonged heatwaves, having tasteless meals served cold, and immigration case work thwarted by jail authorities. They point out that day room privileges are only granted in the early morning and late at night, disallowing them from making phone calls to attorneys and embassies during working hours. They also say that law library visit requests are needlessly delayed for up to 2-3 weeks. Lastly, the immigrant detainees complain that jail authorities manage to lose important legal documents when asked to make photocopies.
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Carrie Braun, a spokeswoman for the OC Sheriff's Department, only relays that the strike centered around day room access.
This week's action is the second hunger strike by immigrant detainees at Theo Lacy in less than one year's time. Last Thanksgiving, mostly South Asian immigrants refused meals until explicitly political demands were met to end all detentions and deportations. The hunger strike ended quietly but the discontent in the cells continues. Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), filed a complaint on behalf of 10 detainees last December alleging physical abuse by Orange County Sheriff Deputies and poor conditions at Theo Lacy. The jail, of course, was also dinged in 2012 Detention Watch Network report for being one of the worst immigrant detention facilities in the United States.
"Detention conditions at Theo Lacy are spiraling out of control," says Christina Fialho, an Orange County-based attorney and CIVIC's co-executive director, in a press statement. "At Theo Lacy Facility, we have documented multiple incidents of abuse and neglect." CIVIC, a national nonprofit that visits and monitors detention facilities, claims that little is being done to address the allegations and improve conditions. "Instead of working with advocates to address substandard medical care and human rights abuses, the Orange County Sheriff's Department has adopted a head in the sand approach by denying that these problems exist," Fialho continued.
CIVIC points to the hunger strike and complaint as reasons why State Senator Ricardo Lara's Dignity Not Detention Act is sorely needed to uphold humane treatment standards in private and public facilities.