The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

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July 11, 2014

Convicts to Coal Twp. prison: Meet our 22 demands

COAL TOWNSHIP — The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections is reviewing 22 demands from inmates at the State Correctional Institution at Coal Township that follow a prison imam’s federal lawsuit against the lockup and convicts’ weeklong hunger strike.

The demands were sent to Coal Township Superintendent Vincent Mooney and state Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel.

More than 1,300 inmates responded to meal cutbacks and a menu change by boycotting the prison dining hall.

The boycott ended peacefully. Inmates then assembled a list of changes they want to see.

Even the Department of Corrections agreed the change in meal portions should have been better communicated with prisoners.

“They (inmates) could have been better informed,” Sue Bensinger, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, said Thursday.

“We have received a copy of the demands and we look at every complaint very seriously.”

Bensinger said she reviewed the 22 demands that include rescinding a policy of cutting the food and condiment portions of meals and returning the portion sizes to the level they were prior to Mooney’s May 26 memo authorizing the portion reduction for budgetary reasons.

Inmates claim breakfast consists of a half a cup of cream of wheat or oatmeal, two slices of bread and two packets of sugar, which prisoners say contain no nutritional value.

Inmates are also demanding an investigation into the operation of SCI-Coal Township’s mailroom for delaying the delivery of prisoners’ letters, not informing prisoners when their mail is denied or rejected, and arbitrarily denying or rejecting publications critical of prisons.

Inmates also want the lockup to stop using nondelivery of mail as punishment on days when the prison is under lockdown for an emergency or for searches of prisoners’ cells. SCI-Coal Township could deliver the mail on these days, inmates say.

“We looked at these and there are ways to get some of things they (inmates) are asking for to be looked at,” Bensinger said.

“They need to file all grievances with the prison first because those are the people that work with them every day. From there they can appeal if they choose and then we would get it and we have a team of people to look through everything.”

Another incident that sparked concern from inmates was a lawsuit filed by Mustafa Abuomar, an imam employed at Coal Township.

Abuomar claims in the federal lawsuit he endured a co-worker’s religious and racial slurs, and after a confrontation with the lockup’s leadership, was paraded like a prisoner through the complex to the jeers and taunts of inmates.

Abuomar, of Mount Carmel, claims his Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and 14th Amendment rights were violated and is suing the state Department of Corrections, Mooney, and Majors Edward Baumbach and Dennis Brumfield.

Abuomar states he suffered after filing a complaint with the Department of Corrections’ Equal Employment Opportunity Commission following a corrections officer’s inappropriate ethnic, racial and religious slurs about him.

Bensinger would not comment on the lawsuit but said the state takes every complaint seriously.

“I can tell you we look at everything,” she said. “We are well aware of what is going on and we are speaking with prison officials.” Mooney did not return a call.

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