HONOLULU (AP) - A handful of inmates indicted on charges of being part of a prison gang have waged a hunger strike to protest conditions at Honolulu's Federal Detention Center.
Attorneys for the inmates say about eight stopped eating to protest isolation in a segregated unit and conditions that include a lack of clean underwear, loss of family visits and maggots in food.
The facility's spokesman, Jeffrey Greene, said allegations of insects in food and dirty clothes are unfounded. He said he could not confirm whether the hunger strike was taking place because of safety and security reasons.
Federal Bureau of Prisons policy on hunger strikes calls for regular medical evaluations if an inmate has not eaten for more than 72 hours. If an inmate's life or health is threatened, "involuntary medical treatment will be administered."
Inmate Moses Thompson is leading the hunger strike. He came up with the idea while reading in his cell about Nelson Mandela and peaceful resistance, Thompson's attorney Neal Kugiya said.
Thompson was in an Arizona prison serving a life sentence for murder, but returned to Honolulu when he and 17 others were indicted for alleged membership in the "USO Family" gang. Some are awaiting trial, while others have pleaded guilty.
Authorities say the prison gang has spread as Hawaii sends inmates to prisons in other states because of limited space. The indictment alleges that the gang was involved in drug-trafficking, bribery and violence.
Kugiya provided The Associated Press letters handwritten by Thompson and two other inmates about the hunger strike. The prisoners wrote that none of them did anything to warrant placement in the Special Housing Unit, known as the SHU, where they are segregated from the general population and in cells 23 hours per day.
The attorneys say they were told their clients were being housed in the special unit because of a lack of space.
The Bureau of Prisons can't discuss conditions or confinement of individual inmates, spokesman Chris Burke said. But a lack of space is not typically a reason for segregated housing, he said. An inmate might be segregated for discipline or for protection, Burke said.
Louis Ching, who represents William Shinyama, who is accused of being a gang member while serving a state sentence for robbery, described the segregated unit as "dimly lit, dungeonlike."
"There's rows and rows of individual cells that are highly locked up," he said. "It's just very, very isolated."
Attorneys have tried to take up the issue with the judge handling the case, but the courts don't have authority over the facility, attorney Todd Eddins said. "It's the warden's decision," he said.