A federal judge agreed Monday to allow California prison officials to force-feed inmates who may be near death in a seven-week-old prison hunger strike over conditions of solitary confinement.
U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson permitted state officials to give state doctors authority to take the serious steps because there is a risk some of the nearly 70 striking inmates may have been coerced into participating and to sign “do not resuscitate” orders against their will, according to the order.
The hunger strike began seven weeks ago on July 8 and included 129 inmates at the time. It is now down to 69 inmates scattered in six prisons.
Some inmates may be at a stage where they are unconscious or cannot make medical decisions and the judge would allow the state to step in.
Many of the protesters are part of a lawsuit over conditions of solitary confinement, arguing it violates international law and medical ethics.
The motion was signed jointly by state lawyers, the court-appointed prison receiver and the attorneys for the Prison Law Office, which represents inmates in a long-running healthcare class action.
In the joint request for permission to force-feed inmates, the corrections officials said they are concerned the existing policy on force-feeding does not account for coerced participation.
“Medical staff are concerned that it does not provide sufficient guidance with respect to when clinicians may reefed in the face of possible, but uncertain, coerced participation in the strike or coerced execution of ‘do not resuscitate’ directives,” the petition states.
Henderson said that if the chief medical executive at the prison determines that “a hunger striker is at risk of near-term death or great bodily injury in the absence of intervention or has become incompetent to give consent or make medical decisions, refeeding or other lifesaving measures may commence immediately.”
In the past, supporters of the inmates’ hunger strike say more than 400 inmates have participated and maintain it is one of the longest in U.S. history.
Case: Plata v. Brown, No C01-1351TEH