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A called-for hunger strike by prisoners at Menard Correctional Center on Wednesday didn’t amount to much, according to the state’s prison administration.

Illinois Department of Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer reported as many as 12 inmates refused breakfast and lunch. They didn’t give a reason for bypassing the meals. Another two inmates refused breakfast, he said.

“They (two inmates) said it wasn’t a protest. They simply didn’t want to eat for whatever reason,” Shaer said.

The hunger strike was advocated by Affordable Power & Justice in response to reports the group has received about “deplorable” conditions at Menard.

“We have enough anecdotal information to think there’s something going on in Menard,” said Curly Cohen, a spokesman for the Chicago group.

The mother of a Menard inmate said she communicated with her son recently. He said during the recent cold snap when temperatures hovered around zero, he could see his breath, Cohen said about one report.

“We got two confirmations of how cold it was,” Cohen said, noting advocacy group members notified local law enforcement agencies to check on prison conditions.

Shaer said six prisoners from the 3,700 population of inmates at the prison in Chester filed grievances, claiming there was no heat or hot water in the cells and they were denied extra clothing.

“We categorically denied this,” Shaer said.

He provided a Menard Cellhouse Temperature Check Sheet from a day earlier this month that showed temperatures ranging from 68 to 72 degrees throughout various wings of the cellhouse.

“Temperatures throughout Menard are monitored every three to four hours. This month, there has been no area below 68 degrees,” Shaer said.

He said the absence of hot water in cells was untrue, saying there are hot water faucets in all cells and repairs are made when needed. Each inmate gets a coat when temperatures get cold, he said.

Shaer said he was upset and responded to a story that ran Tuesday in the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper that carried news of the proposed hunger strike and detailed other allegations of prisoner inhumane living conditions.

“The Illinois Department of Corrections vehemently denies all allegations claimed in the newspaper article. These are inflammatory, unsubstantiated claims that are undermining the importance of rights of the prisoners,” Shaer said.


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