California’s ongoing prison hunger strike is about to get force-fed, after a federal judge granted authority for prison officials to make prisoners eat if their health is failing.
Around 70 inmates in six prisons statewide have refused all meals since the strike began on July 8 in a protest of long-term solitary confinement in Secure Housing Units (SHU). Nearly 30,000 of California’s 133,000 inmates participated in the strike when it began.
In an extraordinarily unusual situation, leaders of rival Latino, black, and white supremacist gangs have allied to promote the hunger strike in an effort to put an end to the SHUs, among several other demands.
Prison policy is to let inmates starve themselves to death if they have signed Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) requests, but the order from U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson says that the prison system will be given authority to put ailing prisoners on a forced liquid diet. If prisoners have a DNR order that was signed near the beginning of the strike, it will be deemed invalid in the eyes of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), which suspects prisoners were forced to sign them under duress by gang leaders.
The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, an advocacy group for the striking prisoners, posted the following statement regarding the proposal of force-feeding:
“CDCR justifies asking for the order to force feed by claiming that the widespread hunger strike is ‘orchestrated’ by gangs, that the massive participation and support for the demands is coerced and that prisoners have signed ‘do not resuscitate’ directives under duress,” according to Claude Marks of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. “This order violates all international laws and standards and gives the medical director of each prison authority to violate human rights laws instead of reasonably negotiating with prisoners.”
The “refeeding” process, as defined by prison officials, could include IV fluids and feeding tubes inserted through inmates’ noses into their stomachs.
Prison officials have stated that inmates would be allowed to begin a liquid diet, as requested, if they choose – but would be considered as having ended the hunger strike if they consumed anything beyond water, vitamins, and electrolytes.
Jesse Farthing is a guest blogger for Ring of Fire.