SACRAMENTO — California prison officials have obtained a federal court order to allow force feeding and other steps to keep hunger strikers alive, including those who have declared that they do not want such intervention.
The state argued in a Monday filing to U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson that there is a “risk that inmates may be or have been coerced into participating in the hunger strike” and signed such declarations against their will.
Henderson agreed, ordering that the state may feed all prisoners who signed a “do not resuscitate” directive just before the July 8 start of the protest or since then, including those it says were coerced.
The judge’s order also allows feeding of any prisoner who, according to a state doctor’s determination, “has become incompetent to give consent or make medical decisions.”
That includes inmates who may be unconscious, said Joyce Hayhoe, a spokeswoman for the prison medical office, which is run by a court-appointed receiver. “It’s all based on a doctor’s best medical judgment at the time,” she said.
The chief spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Deborah Hoffman, declined to answer questions about how that order would be interpreted, saying that those would be medical decisions.
Hayhoe said no inmates have reached the stage where involuntary feeding is needed. “We are being proactive,” she said.
Medical journals say that after 40 days of fasting, the body begins to suffer more serious damage, and the risks of collapse or heart attack increase. Hayhoe said intervention may become needed as those who are fasting continue without food.
The strike continued Monday, its 43rd day, in six prisons. Sixty-nine inmates have refused meals since the beginning, and 67 have fasted for shorter periods, according to corrections officials.