Aug 23 2013

Guardian: Force-feeding prisoners in California and Guantánamo solves nothing

The California Prison hunger strike that began on 8 July reached a critical stage this week when authorities were given the go ahead to force-feed inmates as they near death. At the time the order was issued, approximately 129 men were still participating in the strike and 69 of those had been starving themselves since the beginning meaning that organ failure may be imminent. While no one wants to see the prisoners die, the decision to allow force-feeding has angered lawyers and advocacy groups who say state officials have chosen to dig in their heels at this crucial juncture rather than make a good faith effort to negotiate an end to what they call the hunger strike “disturbance”.

The force-feeding ruling is particularly controversial as it allows prison officials to override do-not-resuscitate (DNR) directives previously signed by many of the hunger strikers. Lawyers for the state argued that some inmates may have been coerced into signing these directives, but prisoner advocates claim there is little evidence that this is the case.

As Carol Strickman, a staff attorney for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, who has acted as mediator on behalf of the hunger strikers, says: “At the very least, the men who voluntarily signed the directives should have been represented in court.” Jules Lobel, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who represents some of the hunger strikers in a lawsuit over prison conditions, also expressed regret about the ruling:

Force-feeding should only ever be used as a last resort, after all other alternatives have been exhausted.

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