Federal judge OKs force-feeding of California prisoners

The inmates are in their second month of a hunger strike against the use of isolation units

By Natasha Lennard

Published August 20, 2013 1:10PM (EDT)


As the prison hunger strike in California now stretches far beyond its two-month mark, a federal judge has approved a request from state officials to permit the force-feeding of prisoners.

The strike, which began in early July over the holding in solitary confinement of certain gang leaders, has at times involved more than 400 prisoners refusing prison meals across the state system. According to reports, officials fear for the health of 70 hunger strikers at present.

The strikers, backed by the ACLU, are calling for an end to the widespread use of isolation units in prisons, which are often used to punish inmates for minor infractions and to prevent political organizing within the general population. "California incarcerates about 3,600 inmates in what are known as Security Housing Units, some because of crimes they committed in prison and others for indefinite terms if they are validated as leaders of prison gangs," the AP reported.

The force-feeding of hunger strikers through the painful and torturous method of using nasal tubes to force food into an inmate's stomach -- as is the method used with Guantánamo Bay striking detainees -- is decried internationally by medical ethics and human rights groups.

"Force-feeding violates international law to the extent that it involves somebody who doesn't give their consent," Jules Lobel, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who represents 10 inmates suing to end prolonged solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison, told the AP.

As the AP noted:

Prison policy is to let inmates starve to death if they have signed legally binding do-not-resuscitate (DNR) requests. But state corrections officials and a federal receiver who controls inmate medical care received blanket authority from U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson of San Francisco to feed inmates who may be in failing health. The order includes those who recently signed requests that they not be revived.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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