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Santa Cruz County Jail inmates protest coffee, Ramen prices

Santa Cruz County Jail inmates protest coffee, Ramen prices

SANTA CRUZ — The price of coffee, all flavors of Ramen noodles and a slew of commissary items drove 90 inmates in the main jail and facilities in the South County to refuse their three daily meal offerings on May 5.

The protest, which the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office did not deem a hunger strike, led to the price reductions for those and other goods sold to inmates at roughly the prices available at convenience stores. Prices were lowered after authorities reviewed costs set in other counties.

“It’s a meal refusal,” Sgt. Dee Baldwin said Monday afternoon. “Thirty to 50 percent of inmates have dropped out of it and have gone back to normal meals.”

The Santa Cruz County Jail system averages about 500 inmates, he said. Most of the inmates on strike were at the main jail at Water Street, he said.

Inmates are offered three daily meals; dinner is their “hot meal,” Baldwin said.

Grievances

About a month ago, a group of inmates “brought forth some concerns to jail administrators,” Baldwin said. A series of meetings were held to discuss prices of commissary goods and the inmates asked for clothing options. The clothing options were denied.

“They wanted beanies and sweatshirts,” Baldwin said. There were studies that determined that the temperature was not a problem.

And maintaining uniform clothing trumped the request for beanies and sweatshirts.

So far, prices were reduced for about 20 commissary items.

“The main focus was coffee and Ramen,” Baldwin said.

The commissary used to have coffee packets priced at more than $7. Now, a pouch of Maxwell House coffee is $5.05, according to a website listing the products. There are six product categories: drinks, food and snacks, shoes, health and beauty, electronics and “The General Store.”

An email to the Sentinel described the impact the strike has had on the inmates.

“He couldn’t even get up from his chair and he looked very pale and in very bad shape,” the email reads. “Something is obviously not right for so many people to risk their lives for change.”

Authorities have described how inmates already accompany certain health risks, such as enduring detoxification from street drugs when they are brought to the jail.

Another woman said her daughter is an inmate at the main jail. She said the hunger strike stemmed from crowded conditions and high prices for commissary items.

“The conditions there are terrible,” she said.

Healthy results

Baldwin said no one has had health problems stemming from their decision to refuse meals.

In response to the strike, contracted health providers are checking all participating inmates every three days. Inmates with low body fat or other health risks are being checked daily, Baldwin said.

“All of the inmates involved in the meal refusal have access to commissary items,” Baldwin said.

As to whether or not there are indications of when the strike might end, Baldwin said “not to my knowledge.”

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