Hunger strike ends at North Lake Correctional Facility

Advocacy group wants detainees released

BALDWIN — In response to a weeklong hunger strike by certain individuals detained at North Lake Correctional Facility, members of the advocacy group, No Detention Centers in Michigan, are calling for their release.

According to letters received by the group, about 10 detainees in the prison’s Special Housing Unit launched a hunger strike April 5 to protest poor living conditions, inadequate food and health care and religious discrimination.

“This place is unbelievable to humankind,” one of the men involved said in a call to No Detention Centers.

He went on to describe overcrowding, lack of essential needs and unsafe conditions within the facility.

“There’s no way somebody’s supposed to be living like this," he said.

The hunger strike resulted in the negotiation of higher quality and nutritional value of food, but not without allegations of heavy-handed pressure by prison officials.

“I got off the hunger strike because they turned the water off,” another participant told No Detention Centers in Michigan in a letter Wednesday.

He said his religious practices require him to wash before praying.

A spokesperson from The GEO Group, Inc., the for-profit company that owns and operates North Lake Correctional Facility, denied the allegation when contacted by Michigan Advance for an article. However, the spokesperson also confirmed that three employees have tested positive for the coronavirus.

“GEO Group is working to address the risk of coronavirus to those in our care and our employees,” the company stated on its website. “GEO has experience with the implementation of best practices for the prevention, assessment, and management of infectious diseases. ...We will continue to coordinate closely with our government partners and local health agencies to ensure the health and safety of all those in our care and our employees.”

One of two federally run prisons in Michigan, North Lake Correctional Facility has been the target of protest since before it opened in October. Members of No Detention Centers in Michigan have called on government officials to shut down the 1,800-bed facility.

“We knew that this hunger strike had started as a response to appalling conditions that predated the COVID-19 crisis,” said Erin Paskus, a member of the advocacy group. “But those conditions have always been evidence that the GEO Group is unable to keep people safe during a pandemic.

“The events of the last two weeks have given unmistakable proof of gross mismanagement, neglect, and a lack of transparency. Now we know the virus is inside the facility."

"We’re calling on the federal government to release people from North Lake today, before it’s too late," she added.