A US federal judge ruled that state and federal prison officials in California will be allowed to start force-feeding inmates participating in a nearly two-month-long hunger strike, if the prisoners appear to be approaching their death.
The California Department of Corrections, in conjunction with
federal officials, requested the permission on Friday, saying
they were concerned about the health of approximately 70 inmates
who have refused meals since July 8. Roughly 130 inmates across
California remain on hunger-strike, protesting the policy of
isolating gang leaders and violent offenders in solitary
Prison officials already have the power to compel inmates to eat,
although that process requires a court order for each individual.
Monday’s court order, signed by US District Judge Thelton
Henderson, allows the Department of Corrections to skip the
case-by-case scenario and instead force-feed all inmates,
including those who recently signed legally-binding “do not
resuscitate” (DNR) requests.
The demonstration initially included 30,000 of the 133,000
prisoners in California. Under current prison policy, inmates are
allowed to starve to death if they refuse their food and have
signed DNR requests, AP reported.
The so-called “refeeding” process involves feeding prisoners
intravenous fluids through their noses and into their stomachs.
Judge Henderson instructed officials to act only if the chief
medical executive at a facility determines a hunger striker is at
risk of “near-term death or great bodily injury.”
The exact number of inmates participating in the protests has
decreased. While some have stopped protesting on their own,
others were forced to quit after being hospitalized for symptoms
including dehydration, cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness,
and other maladies.
The hunger-strike, a rare moment of cooperation among notorious
prison gang leaders, began as a measure against long-held
detention policies, overcrowding, and poor conditions.
Despite repeated condemnations from an assortment of judges, the
United Nations, and various human rights groups, solitary
confinement has become an increasingly viable option for prisons
that need to segregate individual prisoners. The American Civil
Liberties Union asserted in a recent report that New York prison
inmates may be sentenced to solitary confinement for
“infractions as minor as having too many postage stamps or a
The Scientific American conducted a 1957 study on volunteers who
were subjected to isolation simulations. Upon completion, most
participants performed poorly on simple tests examining
arithmetic, word association, and pattern recognition
capabilities, according to independent news organization Mother
Jones. Others experienced sudden emotional responses and vivid
“Nearly all of them reported that the most striking thing
about the experience was that they were unable to think clearly
about anything for any length of time and that their thought
processes seemed to be affected in other ways,” the results
stated. “They were sick people.”
Marie Levin, who is part of the coalition Prisoner Hunger Strike
told Boston public radio show “Here and Now” that isolation cells
are inhumane. Levin’s brother has been locked up in a US prison
“It’s a concrete, windowless cell that’s 8 by 12 [feet],”
she said. “It only contains a sink, a toilet and a little stub
that they sit on. There are no windows, so they’re circulating
air that comes in, but no fresh air. They can’t look out to see
Inmates’ attorneys and prison officials have previously argued
over whether California prisoners should be allowed to
voluntarily begin a liquid-only diet.
“Patients have a right to refuse medical treatment. They also
have a right to refuse food,” Joyce Hayhoe, a spokeswoman for
the federal receiver’s office, told AP.
“If an inmate gets to the point where he can’t tell us what
his wishes are, for instance if he’s found unresponsive in his
cell, and we don’t have a DNR, we’re going to get nourishment
into him. That’s what doctors do. They’re going to follow their
medical ethics. We’d take any and all measures to sustain their
Both prison officials and attorneys representing the remaining
demonstrators claim they are willing to compromise. Lawmakers say
the effort is fueled by gang leaders seeking more power behind
bars, while inmates’ attorneys have repeatedly told the media
they are seeking a compromise to benefit both parties.
“Being rational seems to have left this debate,” Jeanne
Woodford, former head of the California prison system under
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, told the Los Angeles Times.
“It’s people who have dug their heels in on both sides.”
Republished from: RT