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Calif. Wins Permission To Force-Feed Prison Hunger Strikers

Inmates at California's Chino State Prison in December 2010.
Kevork Djansezian
Getty Images
Inmates at California's Chino State Prison in December 2010.

This post was updated at 3:47 a.m. ET Tuesday:

The Associated Press reports: A federal judge approved Monday's request from California and federal officials to force-feed inmates if necessary as a statewide prison hunger strike entered its seventh week.

Officials say they fear for the welfare of nearly 70 inmates who have refused all prison-issued meals since the strike began July 8 over the holding of gang leaders and other violent inmates in solitary confinement that can last for decades.

Prison officials said Monday that inmates are free to consume a liquid diet, but will be counted as having ended their hunger strike if they consume anything more than water, vitamins and electrolytes.

Original Post:

California prison officials are asking the federal government for permission to force-feed some inmates who have been on a hunger strike for seven weeks.

The AP reports:

"Officials say they are concerned about the health of nearly 70 inmates who have refused all prison-issued meals since the strike began July 8.

"Prison policy is to let inmates die if they have a legally binding do-not-resuscitate request. But corrections officials and the federal authority who oversees prison medical care filed a motion Monday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco asking for authority to feed inmates near death.

"That authority, if granted, would cover some who asked not to be revived."

Paige St. John, a reporter for The Los Angeles Times, reports that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations is asking a federal judge to throw out "do not resuscitate" orders that were "signed just before the hunger strike."

Public radio's Here and Now spoke to the sister of Ronnie Dewberry, one of the strikers who has been in prison since 1981 and is protesting long-term solitary confinement.

"I don't want him to die," Marie Levin told Here and Now. "But if him continuing in this fight for some kind of relief for himself and for the other prisoners that are suffering under the same conditions, if that means that he needs to go forth and continue on, then I'm with him."

Other inmates are protesting prison conditions, including the quality of the food and the use of "group punishment."

Corrections officials told Here and Now that they believed they had already met the demands of the inmates, "including the demand to limit the length of solitary confinement."

As far as force feeding, the issue has, of course, been in the news because of the inmates in Guantanamo, whom the the U.S. is force feeding. Referring to those cases, The New England Journal of Medicine ran an op-ed that called the practice medically unethical.

"Physicians may not ethically force-feed any competent person, but they must continue to provide beneficial medical care to consenting hunger strikers. That care could include not only treating specific medical conditions but also determining the mental competence of the strikers, determining whether there has been any coercion involved, and even determining whether the strikers want to accept voluntary feedings to continue their protest without becoming malnourished or risking death," the op-ed read.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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