80 people in Oregon’s federal prison go on hunger strike

Oregon’s federal public defender says dozens of people inside the state’s only federal prison have been on a hunger strike protesting conditions inside the facility.

"We heard last week that some incarcerated people had started a hunger strike, and the government confirmed (Monday) that about 80 people are now participating," Lisa Hay, the federal public defender, told Oregon Public Broadcasting in a statement.

Oregon’s U.S. Attorney’s Office would not confirm a hunger strike in the detention center at the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan to OPB. The institution houses people who have been charged but not convicted of crimes.

The Bureau of Prisons this week confirmed some people inside the detention center did not accept their meals.

"Numerous inmates assigned to the detention center at Federal Correctional Institution Sheridan did not accept meals prepared by the Bureau of Prisons for several days," BOP spokesperson Benjamin O’Cone wrote in a statement. "However, during this time, these inmates had access to purchased goods from the commissary for consumption."

O’Cone also said the men in custody are "currently accepting their meals."

Hay has filed dozens of petitions seeking people’s release from the prison over concerns about poor medical care and inmates sometimes spending weekends locked in their cells.

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During the past two years, Hay’s court filings have documented troubling reports she’s received from people inside, including cancer patients who have not received treatment for months and inmates who say they’ve attempted suicide and haven’t received medication or requested mental health treatment. At least six inmates have died at Sheridan since March 2020. None of the deaths were from COVID-19.

"We had hoped that the existence of these lawsuits would spur reforms within the Bureau of Prisons, but any progress over these last two years has been frustratingly slow," Hay said in her Monday statement.