Judge Allows Force-Feeding of Inmates Participating in Hunger Strike
On Monday, a federal judge approved a request from California and federal officials to force-feed inmates participating in a prison hunger strike if the prisoners become unresponsive or are unable to communicate their health care needs, AP/U-T San Diego reports (Thompson, AP/U-T San Diego, 8/19).
In July, 30,000 inmates began refusing meals to protest the use of security housing units for indefinite isolation of certain prisoners as a way to manage prison gangs.
Members of the hunger strike -- organized by inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison -- seek a five-year limit on such isolation, as well as new educational and rehabilitation programs (California Healthline, 8/15).
Update on Strike
As of Monday, 69 inmates had refused prison-issued meals since the strike officially began on July 8.
Sixty-seven other inmates who currently are participating in the strike have refused food for shorter periods of time (St. John, "PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 8/19).
Details of Request
In a court filing on Monday, prison officials and the Prison Law Office asked U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson to grant them authority to force-feed inmates when they are at risk of "near-term death or great bodily injury" or when they are deemed incompetent to make their own medical decisions.
According to the filing, the "refeeding" process could include:
- Providing intravenous fluids; or
- Using a feeding tube.
The filing also asked that medical officials at the prisons have the authority to override do-not-resuscitate requests that they believe inmates might have been coerced into signing. The filing calls for DNRs signed at or near the beginning of the strike to be automatically invalidated (AP/U-T San Diego, 8/19).
Current prison policy is to allow inmates to starve to death if they have signed a DNR request. However, Deborah Hoffman -- a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson -- said the agency has "information that inmates have been coerced into taking part in this hunger strike and signing [DNR] directives" ("PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 8/19).
Jules Lobel -- president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is representing 10 inmates who have filed a lawsuit to end solitary confinement at Pelican Bay -- said, "Force-feeding violates international law to the extent that it involves somebody who doesn't give their consent."
Lobel suggests that prison officials instead:
- Provide inmates with a liquid diet; or
- Negotiate with inmates over their demands.
Prison officials said that liquid diets are available to inmates but that prisoners will not be considered part of the strike if they consume anything other than water, vitamins and electrolytes.
Lobel said CCR will not appeal Henderson's order (AP/U-T San Diego, 8/19).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.