Prison officials in California are seeking a federal judge’s approval to force-feed nearly 70 inmates who have rejected all meals since a massive hunger strike began in seven state prisons on July 8.
The Associated Press reports that the federal authority overseeing prison medical care is backing the California Department of Corrections in their request that a U.S. District Court grant them authority to feed convicts near death.
Prison guidelines stipulate that prisoners should be allowed to die as long as they have a legally binding do-not-resuscitate request. If the court grants the Department of Correction force-feeding authority, some prisoners who have asked not to be revived would likely be fed against their will.
The prison strike began 43 days ago after inmates protested over the misuse of solitary confinement, the use of informants inside the prison to monitor gang activity, the lack of nutritious and adequate food and even the right to more TV channels.
While 30,000 prisoners began the strike, as of this week only 129 hardcore strikers remain. Some of the individuals have ended up in prison medical beds, where they continue to refuse food.
Some supporters of the hunger strike have alleged that the number of hunger strikers is in fact much higher, but prison officials do not acknowledge inmates that consume juice or any other nutrition on occasion.
“The rules about who is on hunger strike are so severe, they really are pushing the hunger strikers toward starving themselves,” Ron Ahnen, president of California Prison Focus, told the Los Angeles Times.
Terry Thorton, a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections, told NPR that “the hunger strike needs to be resolved.”
“I don’t want to sound cold-hearted, but this department does not condone inmate disturbances,” she said. “The department can’t negotiate and change policy or make policy or even discuss policy under threats or intimidation.”
On Thursday, prisoners at the Calipatria State Prison finally resumed eating and had most of their minor demands met. Six additional channels, including ESPN and PBS, were added to the prison’s segregation units, and inmates are now allowed to make monthly phone calls and purchase a wider variety of food from the prison’s cafeteria.
The hunger strike is part of a larger crisis wracking California’s prisons, which suffer from chronic overcrowding. The Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that the state must reduce its prison population by 30,000 in order to avoid violating the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
California returned to the Supreme Court this year to ask for a delay in releasing a further 9,600 inmates by the end of 2013, but was again denied on August 2 by a 6-3 majority.
The California prison strike is reminiscent of the hunger strike in Guantanamo Bay, where the United States has held terrorism suspects for the last 12 years. Those detainees have been force-fed since the strike began in early 2013, despite claims from some doctors that the practice is a violation of medical ethics.
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