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ISP protest to focus on healthcare, food, bugs

August 22, 2018

MICHIGAN CITY — Organizers of a protest outside the Indiana State Prison, planned for Saturday, say some of their demands were met after a rally outside the gates in June, and are now focusing in on three key issues.

The groups taking part – The Other Victims’ Advocacy (TOVAC), the Michigan City Social Justice Group, Black Lives Matter Gary, and IDOC Watch – want improved access and quality of medical care for inmates, improved food quality at ISP, and an end to a “cockroach and bed bug infestation within the prison,” according to Nick Greven, an organizer of the rally and member of IDOC Watch.

“This is the second demonstration in an ongoing campaign to improve conditions inside Indiana State Prison and expose the abuses and corruption going on in the facility,” Greven said in a statement. “We’re organizing alongside families of inmates, inmates themselves, and other organizations.”

He said the groups are hoping to continue the progress made after the initial protest on June 23.

“With the last demonstration, we got contact visitation back; with this one we hope to get better food, better medical care, and end the bug infestations ...”

After first rally, ISP spokeswoman Pam James said the prison must abide by more than 500 conditions of confinement set by the Indiana Department of Correction and American Correctional Association. She said ISP is inspected annually to ensure compliance, and passed its most recent inspection in September 2017.

The quality of prison facilities, food and medical care, she said, all meet or exceed IDOC and ACA standards.

But Greven said, “The conditions inside ISP are the worst I’ve heard of, and that’s in a context of generally horrible conditions in prisons across the state.”

The protest is planned for 1 p.m. outside the gates of the facility, with family members of inmates joining local and regional speakers, including Sarah Zawacki of the Michigan City Social Justice Group.

“We will be making demands on the prisoners’ behalf and asking members of the public to join them in support,” Zawacki said.

After the first rally, warden Ron Neal said it was “unfortunate that a few offenders who convinced their families to hold this protest exaggerated – or simply lied in some cases – about conditions of confinement, which the family members believed.”

He said if the protesters had “taken the time to inquire about those allegations, some simple communication about the facts would have alleviated their concerns; and a positive result, rather than a protest, would have been gained.”

Protesters disagree.

“The Michigan City Social Justice group believes it is important to emphasize the unjust issues in the city,” Marisa Chaples, founder of the group, said in a statement. “This prison is in our very own backyard. We all must care about these human rights violations.”

After the rally, the organizations are planning a march through the Uptown Arts District, ending at the “You Are Beautiful” sign across the street from City Hall.

“Our march is planned to go through the Uptown Arts District because our elected officials have made it clear this area is one of their few priorities and we want them to know Michigan City residents care about the inalienable rights of all people,” Chaples said.

Zawicki said the problems go beyond ISP, but are prevalent here.

“The United States incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world. In fact, we incarcerate more people than the two most populated countries, India and China, combined, even though their populations are more than twice the size of our own,” she said.

“This is a symptom of the failed ‘War on Drugs,’ which for decades has disproportionately affected black and brown communities. It’s time for us to make those connections to Michigan City and put an end to systemic white supremacy everywhere, including our home.”

Free parking for the demonstration and march will be provided at the H.O.P.E. Center at 222 McLelland Avenue. Members of the organizations involved will be making signs in the parking lot starting at noon. Materials will be provided and members of the public are invited to take part and join in the rally and march.

The group will meet later at the P.A.R.C. Community Center at 1713 Franklin St. for food and a discussion of future plans.

—From staff reports

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