OLYMPIA — After inmates earlier this month initiated a nonviolent food strike at Clallam Bay Corrections Center, prison officials transferred three dozen of the men to other facilities.
Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) officials have said the move was needed because of information suggesting that those advocating for the strike might hurt inmates who didn’t participate.
Now, five of the men who were transferred are suing DOC and top prison officials. Filed Tuesday in Thurston County Superior Court, the lawsuit claims that after being moved to the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, they and 10 others were put in solitary confinement for no reason.
“Though requested on a number of occasions, Defendants have refused to provide Plaintiffs with any evidence suggesting that Plaintiffs have done anything to justify their transfer from (Clallam Bay Corrections Center) or their ongoing placement in solitary confinement,” according to the lawsuit.
Attorneys for Columbia Legal Services are representing the plaintiffs.
Among those named as defendants are Corrections Secretary Stephen Sinclair and Robert Herzog, the agency’s assistant secretary who oversees the prisons.
The suit claims DOC infringed on the men’s state constitutional rights, including for cruel punishment and violating due process.
The legal action is the latest clash in a series of food strikes and general discontent over the quality of food and other conditions in Washington’s prisons.
“They are already being punished by being in prison, so it’s wrong for them to be mistreated while they’re doing their time,” said Shaniyah Frazier, whose father was transferred and held in solitary confinement, according to a news release from Columbia Legal Services.
The men who filed the lawsuit are asking for restitution, to be released from solitary confinement and to get property returned that they say DOC took after they transferred out of Clallam Bay, among other things.
In a statement Wednesday, Herzog said that “One of DOC’s paramount duties is to maintain safe institutions where incarcerated individuals can participate in rehabilitative programming without being subjected to intimidation or threats of violence.”
But, in the months leading up to the strike, DOC “received information from multiple sources that groups advocating for the strike would punish with violence individuals who refused to participate,” Herzog said in prepared remarks.
To defuse the situation and allow for further investigation, “the Department identified 15 individuals thought to be involved in advocating for the strike and for enforcement of it through threats or intimidation, and placed those individuals in administrative segregation while the investigation continued,” he said.
Herzog said the agency doesn’t publicly share intelligence surrounding prison decisions and specific inmates. One of the five plaintiffs has since been released from solitary confinement, according to DOC spokeswoman Janelle Guthrie.
Found on the northwest corner of the Olympic Peninsula, Clallam Bay Corrections Center houses approximately 850 medium and maximum-security male inmates.