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Force Fed
August 28, 2013 7:38 AM   Subscribe

On Monday, August 19 - day 43 of the strike a federal judge approved a request by state and federal prison authorities to engage the controversial practice of force-feed striking prisoners.

A group of California prisoners are on day 52 of a hunger strike protesting procedures around solitary confinement. This post from July explains the background behind the hunger strike in detail.

Force-feeding has also been the controversial response to the continuing hunger strike by prisoners protesting conditions at Guantanamo Bay.

Human rights groups condemn the practice of force-feeding (in both locations).
“Force-feeding violates international law to the extent that it involves somebody who doesn’t give their consent,” Jules Lobel, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who represents 10 inmates suing to end prolonged solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison, told the AP
Concerns have been raised, in particular, over inhumane treatment during force-feeding procedures (again, in both locations).

While the hunger strike leaders come from a variety of racial background and have an explicit goal of racial unity, critiques of the US prison system in general and the California prison system in particular tie the present concerns in with historic injustices (via) from colonialism and slavery through the Jim Crow era and modern US economic and other policies.
posted by eviemath (43 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Patients have a right to refuse medical treatment. They also have a right to refuse food," said Joyce Hayhoe, a spokeswoman for the receiver's office.

However, "If an inmate gets to the point where he can't tell us what his wishes are, for instance if he's found unresponsive in his cell, and we don't have a DNR, we're going to get nourishment into him. That's what doctors do. They're going to follow their medical ethics," Hayhoe said. "We'd take any and all measures to sustain their life."


The question -at least in California- is how do the prisoners make sure that the prison has a DNR?
posted by Going To Maine at 7:43 AM on August 28, 2013


...or perhaps not? Perhaps the question is how much capability should the bureaucracy be given to run away from the consequences of its actions. If the DNR is just permission for prisons to pass the buck and not care if prisoners die, that's sub-par too. But looking at this as a situation where someone must win and someone else must lose seems destructive. The war should be fought against the mistreatment. My feelings are complicated.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:48 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, if you do this to geese it's cruelty to animals, but if you do this to prisoners it's acceptable custodial care?
posted by The Confessor at 7:49 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Some parallels between the document linked on "explicit goal" and the document linked on "critiques" struck me, if I may editorialize a bit here in a comment outside of the post proper. I happened upon some of the other links shortly after reading the "critiques" link, and it seemed serendipitously (in a dark way) apropos. As per the post title and majority of links, I tried to make the primary subject of this post the issue of force-feeding of prisoners, however.)
posted by eviemath at 7:53 AM on August 28, 2013


I remember when Bobby Sands died from a hunger strike in the Maze prison in 1981. It was during a large hunger strike of IRA members with Sands in the lead so to speak. The British government made no attempt to intervene. Prime Minister Thatcher said: "Mr. Sands was a convicted criminal. He chose to take his own life. It was a choice that his organisation did not allow to many of its victims".

I am hard-pressed to see how force-feeding Mr. Sands would have made Mrs. Thatcher a bigger villain so I am a bit sympathetic to the "taking all measures to sustain life" argument.
posted by three blind mice at 7:58 AM on August 28, 2013


We either over crowd prisoners and pack them in or we isolate them. Neither is treating them like human beings.

I am hard-pressed to see how force-feeding Mr. Sands would have made Mrs. Thatcher a bigger villain...

Because once you take away an individual's right to self-direct life choices like medical and sustenance you have also taken away their right to be an individual. At that point stop being the hypocrite and just put the person down and end suffering.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:00 AM on August 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


I've assumed for a while now that all of the tactics used against "enemy combatants" would be coming home in the near future.

I guess it's no surprise that they find such neat, seamless synergy with domestic abominations like the CA prison system. Looks like the American future is going to be one big, ghastly, inhuman feedback loop.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:03 AM on August 28, 2013


Is it just me, or do courts seem to specialize in getting it exactly wrong these days? Some days it seems like we're living in oppositeland, anymore.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:09 AM on August 28, 2013


Neither is treating them like human beings.

This seems to be very much part of the program, in the United States, anyway.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 8:15 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Regarding the requirement for a DNR that is mentioned above, this link provides some concerning info:

Judge Thelton E. Henderson issued an order earlier this week clarifying the situation for prisoners and prison officials trying to balance "inmate-patient autonomy" with "security and safety concerns." Inmates that are "at risk of near-term death or great bodily injury," and have not "executed a valid 'do not resuscitate' ["DNR"] directive", may be force fed.

Citing prison officials' fear that inmates were coerced into signing DNRs, the Judge noted that a DNR would not be deemed valid if signed as a result of coercion or if it was "executed by a participant in the hunger strike at or near the beginning of or during the strike." This order applies only to the Massive Hunger Strike, and not to any other future strikes.


That concern about coercion is real, but -again- without the ability to risk your own death the hunger strike seems to become less meaningful as a protest.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:18 AM on August 28, 2013


So what's the argument against fixing the conditions the inmates are unhappy with? Is it a power issue - as in, if they cave in and stop using solitary confinement as a weapon, then prisoners will supposedly go on hunger-strike on a regular basis? It would be damn embarrassing to admit that inmates have basic human rights, and things like long-term solitary confinement violate those rights.
posted by antonymous at 8:21 AM on August 28, 2013


I can't give you a detailed breakdown of the state's reasoning for this, but some of it is covered in this Mother Jones article. Effectively, the state has weaponized solitary confinement in its war on gangs. That weaponization has been very poorly applied, however. And, if you happen to think that solitary is cruel and unusual punishment, is completely unacceptable. The old FPP on the strike provides a lot more context.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:34 AM on August 28, 2013


One of the problems with democracy is that when a vast majority of citizens are in favor of something - treating criminals like animals, for example, there's very little recourse to change the system.
Legislators of all party affiliations know that progressive prison reforms are political suicide.
posted by rocket88 at 8:35 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


On the other hand...

The bulk of the complaints revolve around prisoners being confined in their cells for a lot of the day, and a policy of "debriefing" and "validation", designed to identify gang members and their affiliations in the prison. Those who anonymously cooperate with debriefing get special privs. that the suspected gang members in question believe they should have as well. Likewise, the gang members don't want to be categorized as gang members, because they are then restricted from having access to other gang members.

Given that gangs are largely responsible for drugs, violence, and abuses in prison, this, to me, makes a lot of sense in a maximum security prison. The majority of prisoners at Pelican Bay aren't in solitary... only the worst are. Many of those in solitary are convicted murderers... and many of those, gang members. The cells aren't that bad, cconsidering.

So, the question really is... what kind of rights should the most dangerous prisoners in California have? Should they be given everything that they want, even if it endangers themselves and the rest of the prison population?
posted by markkraft at 9:02 AM on August 28, 2013


So, the question really is... what kind of rights should the most dangerous prisoners in California have? Should they be given everything that they want, even if it endangers the rest of the prison population?

On the other, other hand...
At Pelican Bay, the state's first and most notorious supermax, the 1,500 occupants of the Security Housing Unit (SHU) and Administrative Housing Unit spend 22.5 hours a day alone in windowless cells measuring about 7 x 11 feet. The remaining 90 minutes are spent, also alone, in bare concrete exercise pens. With no phone calls allowed, and only the rare noncontact visit, these prisoners, like those at ADX and Texas' Allan Polunsky Unit, can only access the world outside their cells via their "feeding slots." And their only interactions with fellow prisoners consists of shouting through steel mesh—until the guards order them to shut up.

More than 500 Pelican Bay prisoners have lived in the SHU in excess of a decade, nearly 80 have been there for more than two decades, and one prisoner recently marked his 40th year in solitary. Two-thirds of these prisoners are serving indeterminate stints in the hole—not because of any misbehavior, but because corrections staff have labeled them gang members or "associates."

A 2012 Mother Jones investigation by Shane Bauer found that many of the racially charged gang "validations" were based on the prisoners' reading materials (Karl Marx and George Jackson), writings (advocating prisoners' rights or "Afro-centric ideology"), and drawings (such as Aztec symbols). "One inmate's validation includes a Christmas card with stars drawn on it—alleged gang symbols—among Hershey's Kisses and a candy cane," Bauer wrote. Others are validated on the say-so of prisoners who snitch—which until very recently was one of the only ways to get out of the SHU. The other was to die.
Look at those pictures again. Forty years without human contact, not even phone calls, in a place like that? Crucifixion is more humane.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 9:22 AM on August 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


I've assumed for a while now that all of the tactics used against "enemy combatants" would be coming home in the near future.

Force feeding hunger strikers looong predates Guantanamo and the War on Terror. It's a perfectly valid concern that tactics developed for use on enemy combatants will make their way to use on citizens, but, horrible though this is, this isn't one of them.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:23 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Although overproduced and a bit sensational, this show gives you a good idea of what Pelican Bay is all about. Dangerous place, with regular, large gang fights, based upon racial lines.
posted by markkraft at 9:24 AM on August 28, 2013


So, if you do this to geese it's cruelty to animals, but if you do this to prisoners it's acceptable custodial care?

It's early. Is this a joke?
posted by Hoopo at 9:27 AM on August 28, 2013


"if you do this to prisoners it's acceptable custodial care?"

Versus letting people starve?

They were sent there by the people of the State of California. Their rights are restricted.. they certainly don't have the right to commit suicide. We have some of the most progressive judges in the country, but the Constitutionality of feeding starving prisoners has repeatedly been upheld.
posted by markkraft at 9:38 AM on August 28, 2013


"More than 500 Pelican Bay prisoners have lived in the SHU in excess of a decade"

The SHU *only* gives indeterminate terms to active, violent gang members... oftentimes senior gang members capable of ordering the death of other inmates, or even organizing gang activities outside of prison.

Want out of the SHU? Break ties with the gang.
posted by markkraft at 9:46 AM on August 28, 2013


I think after 10 years in solitary you probably aren't too active in the gang.

You might be violent though.
posted by squinty at 9:49 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Of course they'll be violent. You have nothing but more and more endless abuse to look forward to. If you're locked in your own private parakeet cage forever and ever, where is the inducement to not try and take someone out while you're at it?

Clearly there are people who are the "worst of the worst." So why are there so many here in the US? Or is something we're doing causing it? I know what I'd put my money on.
posted by nevercalm at 9:56 AM on August 28, 2013


So, one of the reasons I included the link to the old FPP was that there were a plethora of comments and additional links dealing with questions like, "aren't the folks in solitary in Pelican Bay the most super dangerous violent gang offenders?" and "how do 'gang validation' and 'debriefing' work?". Both are big, broad, and important topics. Neither are specifically the topics of this FPP. Also, there's background to that conversation already on metafilter, so starting anew without referring to the earlier background seems unproductive (to me).
posted by eviemath at 9:58 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Want out of the SHU? Break ties with the gang.

Did you read the part above posted by [expletive deleted] which says:

A 2012 Mother Jones investigation by Shane Bauer found that many of the racially charged gang "validations" were based on the prisoners' reading materials (Karl Marx and George Jackson), writings (advocating prisoners' rights or "Afro-centric ideology"), and drawings (such as Aztec symbols). "One inmate's validation includes a Christmas card with stars drawn on it—alleged gang symbols—among Hershey's Kisses and a candy cane," Bauer wrote. Others are validated on the say-so of prisoners who snitch—which until very recently was one of the only ways to get out of the SHU.

So as it turns out, what constitutes a "gang" member is pretty flexible in the eyes of prison authorities.
posted by triggerfinger at 10:01 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, this was all well covered in other posts, as eviemath points out.
posted by triggerfinger at 10:02 AM on August 28, 2013


I'm astonished by the people who seem to think that just because someone is incarcerated they lose their right not to have their bodies penetrated against their will. Force-feeding is rape by foreign object.
posted by Decani at 10:17 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


it seems like, lacking a diagnosis of mental illness, to deprive these poor people of a means to exit the hell that they are stuck in is cruel and unusual punishment.

But then, in a more advanced society, many of our current imprisonment practices constitute cruel and unusual punishment
posted by angrycat at 10:17 AM on August 28, 2013


Going to Maine, I think the issue of potentially forced DNRs is quite thorny. I definitely see lots of room for abuse of that in a prison setting. It seems to me that participation in a hunger strike for going on two months is a little more clear-cut a demonstration of a particular individual's wishes, at least, so I do not support forced feeding in such circumstances where an individual has made their intentions clear. On the other hand, I do support suicide prevention. I don't really know what the ethics are of forcing treatment on someone who is suffering from a mental illness such as depression, eg. to prevent their suicide. I think if someone I were close to were in such a situation, I'd most likely be upset if it felt like not everything possible had been done to help them - but I'd also likely be upset if those measures involved involuntary confinement and treatment. Which one is worse? I don't know. I see, I think, a distinction between that situation and the situation of someone who has made a commitment to a potentially deadly hunger strike out of ethical convictions. Or because they have no other recourse for nonviolent protest of unjust conditions - this is more like the mental illness case in that it's not entirely a free as in uncoerced choice on the part of the individual, but different in that the source of coercion is external rather than internal (setting aside for a moment the fact that external stressors like living in poverty or being in solitary confinement for more than some number of days can lead to higher rates of depression and mental illness, so there's obviously an interaction between the two cases). It's definitely a complex ethical issue.

From a tactical point of view, forced feeding takes away much of the moral pressure of a hunger strike, thus further restricting these inmates' options for effective nonviolent protest to advocate for their human rights while in prison, which seems to me to be a further degradation.
posted by eviemath at 10:21 AM on August 28, 2013


I think we are on the same page about this. I have to say, I find the statement that people were being forced to sign DNRs a little dubious on the face, but then I haven't bothered to read any of the evidence presented to the judge.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:09 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am hard-pressed to see how force-feeding Mr. Sands would have made Mrs. Thatcher a bigger villain

Because force feeding somebody against their will is an unspeakably brutal practise. It's ramming a tube down your throat or nose, then sending nutritional paste through it. It's horrible enough that even when used voluntarily, in a hospital environment, it can scare patients shitless (as happened with my wife when she had to have a feeding tube down her nose).
posted by MartinWisse at 12:14 PM on August 28, 2013


The UK didn't force-feed Bobby Sands and his IRA followers. The UK didn't force-feed Gandhi.

The United States is a country completely without shame.
posted by anemone of the state at 1:52 PM on August 28, 2013


This hunger strike is an unabashed gangster power play. The Five Families would do it if Italian-American oppression had sufficient purchase on the imagination of bleeding-heart left wingers. That even Thelton Henderson won't play along should tell you something.
posted by MattD at 2:13 PM on August 28, 2013


That even Thelton Henderson won't play along should tell you something.

Sorry, context?
posted by Going To Maine at 2:20 PM on August 28, 2013


This hunger strike is an unabashed gangster power play.

sigh

From my link on "critiques" in the FPP, I suspect you'll be unhappy with their motivations regardless, but they seem to have different ones than what you think:
If we really mean class war, we need all the warrior elements of our class to be actively engaged. With the new developments of the Pelican Bay Short Corridor Collective, we are witnessing a moment that possesses great potential for the unification of our struggles. When people are subjugated and oppressed at the level we see today, psychologically and materially, we must orient ourselves to the undoing of that hegemonic hold. We must orient ourselves not to weeding out people but to weeding out of people injustice and oppression. We are, myself my close comrades and hopefully you too, endeavoring here to transform the criminal consciousness into a revolutionary consciousness and there already exists a principle basis established by comrades like George Jackson and Kuwasi Balagoon. Now is the time for us to aggressively push forward and show the world we aren’t afraid to fight the fascist, to show them we are prepared to make the same sacrifices that they already have.
Explanatory note for those who can't be bothered to read all the links (I know there are a lot of them and it's a lot of reading and I don't always read everything on FPPs I comment on): the Pelican Bay Short Corridor Collective was the group (not in solitary at the time) that started the hunger strike, that issued the demands linked in the original FPP about the hunger strike, and that wrote the initial call to strike linked to on "explicit goal" in my FPP.
posted by eviemath at 2:39 PM on August 28, 2013


A good friend of mine is a doctor at a California prison. We haven't talked much about this, and I'm unable to speak with him this evening, but he sent me this a few days ago:

16 cups of Gatorade [a] day will yield approximately 1000 cal--hahahaha--20 cups? This is why the men look so good 46 days into it. It's a diet, not a strike
posted by neuron at 8:54 PM on August 28, 2013


Update: The men are smuggling in food and are doing fine. Day 52 and everyone in my care is healthy.
posted by neuron at 9:31 PM on August 28, 2013


" It's a diet, not a strike"

Is this like insider gallows humor from someone too close to the situation protecting their own mental health? 'Cause it comes across as pretty callous out of context here.
posted by eviemath at 5:07 AM on August 30, 2013


If it's true that the men are smuggling food in, that's quite a revelation. More information would be great.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:52 AM on August 30, 2013


I can't give you a detailed breakdown of the state's reasoning for this, but some of it is covered in this Mother Jones article. Effectively, the state has weaponized solitary confinement in its war on gangs. That weaponization has been very poorly applied, however.

Bauer was on Democracy Now recently: A Hunger Strike Against Solitary Confinement: Shane Bauer on Inhuman Prisons from California to Iran
posted by homunculus at 11:27 AM on August 31, 2013


Force feeding hunger strikers looong predates Guantanamo and the War on Terror.

“I Was Forcibly Fed” - Prison torment for champion of women's vote
posted by homunculus at 11:29 AM on August 31, 2013


If it's true that the men are smuggling food in, that's quite a revelation. More information would be great.

If all or a significant proportion of the 30,000 hunger strikers across many California jails (probably not quite as many now, but it seems to still be in the many thousands range) were smuggling in food, that would certainly be a revelation, especially about the security procedures in California jails.
posted by eviemath at 2:51 PM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


If all or a significant proportion of the 30,000 hunger strikers across many California jails (probably not quite as many now, but it seems to still be in the many thousands range)

From the first article in the post:
According to the most recently available information from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) from Friday, August 16, 190 prisoners are on strike at seven prisons throughout the state.

That drop from 30,000 to 190 seems very significant. It's much easier to imagine a small number of strikers at one of those seven prisons smuggling in food than the 30,000 prisoners as a whole.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:12 PM on August 31, 2013


190 is less than thousands, thanks for that catch.

It's still quite a large number for a prison smuggling operation, potentially across multiple prisons, it seems to me. It's also an unverified claim of someone who, while we don't know the context of their comments, would seem on the surface to have a rather antagonistic view of the group to start with. More information is certainly needed, as you say.
posted by eviemath at 2:27 AM on September 1, 2013


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