HARTFORD, Conn. – Five of the seven inmates on Connecticut's death row were on a hunger strike Thursday, protesting living conditions at the Northern Correctional Institution (search) in Somers.
Brian Garnett, a Department of Correction spokesman, confirmed that the inmates informed correctional staff on Wednesday that they would not accept their meals.
"The situation is being monitored," he said. strike.
Serial killer Michael Ross (search) is not in that unit. He is still being kept in a cell at the Osborn Correctional Institution, which houses Connecticut's death chamber. Ross' execution, which had been scheduled for last week, has been postponed indefinitely.
Robert Nave, executive director of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty, said a member of his organization received a statement from the inmates about the planned protest. Although Nave's group is not involved in the protest and does not endorse it, it forwarded a copy of the prisoners' concerns to members of the media.
According to a news release from the network, those on death row have no direct contact with one another but the inmates can communicate in "rudimentary ways." The group said two on death row are not participating in the hunger strike because they are diabetic. However, they were involved in drafting the statement.
"What we request is not unreasonable: communal recreation," the statement reads. "While housed in Northern with the 'worst of the worst' prison offenders who are being punished for their behavior, death row inmates are extremely well-behaved and cause no problems or dangers to the correctional officers or each other."
The statement mentions the phenomenon know as "death row syndrome," a theory that solitary isolation can cause severe mental health problems and suicidal tendencies. The inmates said problems associated with solitary isolation are constantly expressed to DOC mental health staff.
"And their only response to these issues is to medicate inmates or put them on a temporary suicide watch," the statement reads.
The inmates said such actions don't rectify the situation because they still must return to the same severe living conditions, where they're forced to endure segregation for decades as their appeals wind their way through the courts.
They called the segregation "inhumane and tantamount to psychological torture."
Ross' execution was put on hold this week after his attorney said he needed to explore the possibility that Ross' living conditions may have contributed to his decision to accept his death sentence and forgo further appeals. Ross has been on death row for nearly two decades.
The inmates said their protest is not about Ross.
"What we are doing is simply refusing to eat for the duration, however long," they wrote. "We are not doing this in protest of Michael Ross' execution. In fact, it is no wonder to the members of death row why he made this decision."