Prisoners’ families fear they were punished for speaking out

VIDEO: Prisoners' families fear they were punished for speaking out

WASHINGTON — Six men are back behind bars after their family members say they demanded safer conditions during the coronavirus pandemic at the Reynolds Work Release Facility in Seattle.

They are being called the “Reynolds 6,” and their families believe several of them were targeted because of their race and religion.

During May Day, a “Reynolds 6” inmate’s sister, Ayan Adem, participated in a peaceful demonstration, raising safety concerns for the Reynolds inmates. She was worried about their health after a COVID-19 outbreak at another Department of Corrections facility in Monroe.

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“Based on me being a Black Muslim woman, speaking on behalf of my brother, who I didn’t even name, they immediately detained two Black Muslims and sent them off to prison hours later,” said Adem.

Following her speech, six men, including her brother, were transported to Shelton and Monroe prisons. Five of them are black, and one is white. Adem fears she’s the reason they were targeted.

“My additional brothers may simply have been casualties of Reynolds staff covering their track as retaliation against my speech,” said Adem.

During this time, when protests have erupted over racial injustice, the families of “Reynolds 6” and community advocates held a virtual news conference to put a spotlight on the treatment of these men.

“To challenge the Department of Corrections and bring to light the COVID-19 crisis in prisons and ongoing racial violence directed at black families due to mass incarceration and state-sanctioned violence,” said community organizer Nikkita Oliver.

In response to these allegations, the Department of Corrections released this statement:

“The Department takes very seriously any allegations of racism or racial bias, and accordingly investigates such allegations as part of our commitment to operate a safe and humane corrections system and partner with others to transform lives for a better Washington.

In response to a demonstration in front of the Reynolds Work/Training Release on May 1, 2020, to ensure order and to protect staff and the 68 residents at the facility, staff at the facility requested all residents remain in their rooms. Five men did not comply with or follow the directives issued. On May 1, the five men were given verbal notice of the infractions they received and notified of their transport to the Washington Corrections Center to be held pending hearings regarding the infractions. The department transported one additional individual from the facility to the Monroe Corrections Center for health care reasons. Currently two of the six men transferred that day have transfer dates back to Reynolds this month--one individual was determined not to have been involved in the incident and the other is returning from Monroe because he has recovered from his health issue. The other four had their hearings.

The Department has initiated a comprehensive internal review of the situation and pledges to quickly and dutifully respond to the allegations made today. The Department recognizes, respects and appreciates all races, cultures and backgrounds and promotes the inclusion of all people.”

The families of the six inmates said the men were all set to be released from the Reynolds facility in late May and early June. It’s unclear now when the inmates will be coming home.