A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] granted permission on Tuesday for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) [official website] to force-feed select inmates who are near death, even if the inmates had previously signed orders asking not to be resuscitated. California authorities went to the court [Reuters report] for approval to force-feed some prisoners participating in a hunger strike after officials voiced concerns that inmates may have been coerced into refusing food. The hunger strike is on its forty-second day, and participants risk [text, PDF] organ failure, disruption of all metabolic function, loss of at least 18 percent of initial body weight and potential death, according to California Correctional Health Care Services (CPHCS).
The hunger strike began [LAT report] on July 8, with approximately 30,000 inmates refusing meals in two-thirds of the state's 33 prisons, and at all four out-of-state private prisons. The protest was organized by a small group of inmates held in segregation at Pelican Bay State Prison [official website], whose demands center on state policies that allow inmates to be held in isolation indefinitely for ties to prison gangs. According to a 2011 statement [press release] from the undersecretary of the CDCR, the state's average solitary confinement term is 6.8 years. The protest involves the same issues and many of the same inmates who led a series of protests [JURIST report] in California prisons two years ago. At the peak of the 2011 hunger strikes, more than 6,600 inmates refused meals. The CDCR reported [press release] last week that a total of 98 inmates have denied meals continuously since the hunger strike began on July 8, and a total of 190 inmates in eight state prisons are participating in the hunger strike. These numbers are down dramatically from 12,421 inmates reportedly participating on July 11.