Hunger strike threatened at country jail
SUNBURY - A threat of a hunger strike to begin Monday at Northumberland County Prison has jail officials taking a wait-and-see approach.
Cmdr. Brian Wheary, the interim warden, isn't sure if anyone in addition to Charles Picarella Jr., jailed on drug charges, will refuse food. The 34-year-old inmate wrote to prison board officials and local media this week, saying a group of prisoners were preparing a hunger strike to oppose the food service provided by Aramark Correctional Services. He did not say how many inmates would participate.
According to Wheary, an inmate must refuse nine consecutive meals before his actions would be considered a hunger strike. If Picarella and others do strike, there will be food and water available, Wheary said, and they'll be monitored by corrections and medical staff. Should anyone be in danger of failing health, he said a court order would be sought permitting the inmate to be force fed.
County Controller Chris Grayson, a prison board member, withheld comment. He said he wouldn't address a threat of a hunger strike nor would he address Picarella's demands. If such a strike were to occur, he said prison protocol would be followed.
Picarella said the "poor" menu should be supplemented with fresh fruit and vegetables, along with milk. He also alleges Aramark's business practice creates incentive to beat budget figures, allowing for the possibility of prisoners being underfed.
Karen Cutler, ARAMARK's director of corporate communications, said "the claim about offering our employees incentives is completely false. We serve quality, nutritious meals that meet the nutrition and dietary guidelines set by the county."
There were no grievances sent directly from Picarella to Wheary about the prison's food service, Wheary said. He walked the block Friday morning and said of all the inmates he spoke with, Picarella was the only one to speak about prison food.
Aramark's contract with the county is nearing its end. Wheary said inmates' concerns about food service would be discussed when negotiating a new deal. Pricing and budget is a consideration, Wheary said, "and we also take into consideration how the inmates feel about the food."
Wheary, named interim warden last week after Roy Johnson was fired, said an actual hunger strike isn't commonplace, but it's a situation that prisons everywhere prepare for.