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Connecticut Supreme Court Holds for DOC to End Hunger Strike

The Supreme Court of the State of Connecticut affirmed in March 2012 the judgment of trial court granting permanent injunction to the Commissioner of Correction authorizing her to cause to be force-fed a prisoner who initiated a hunger strike as a form of protest upon his criminal conviction. Defendant William B. Coleman asserted that trial court improperly determined that (a) the state’s interest outweighed his common law right to bodily integrity (b) that force-feeding did not violate his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to free speech and privacy, and (c) the international law did not prohibit force-feeding. The Supreme Court disagreed with Coleman in all three points.

Coleman started his hunger strike in September 2007. He at that time, weighed 237 pounds, and was down to 162 pounds by January 2008, when the Commissioner of Correction sought temporary and permanent injunctions to prohibit further such activity. When temporary injunction was granted, Coleman began to voluntarily take liquids and liquid nutrients. Sometime later he “cranked-up” the hunger strike, getting down to 129 pounds before prison doctors initiated the injunction, using a nasogastric method of force feeding.

At permanent injunction trial the state injunction trial the state stressed the negative effect a hunger strike death would have on both staff and population, spawning copy-cat behavior among prisoners and obfuscating penelogical objectives. The state produced witnesses that established nasogastric tube feeding as neither painful nor inhumane. Trial court issued the permanent injunction. Coleman appealed and the Connecticut Supreme Court picked it up.

The Supreme Court in analysis referenced established standards of review following the grant of permanent injunction, the addressed Coleman’s claims from within the framework of those standards. In the issue of common law right to bodily integrity, the court recognized penelogical objectives as controlling in that instance. Likewise in the issue of free speech and privacy rights, the state’s interest in maintaining control was tantamount. In the third issue, international law prohibiting force feeding, the state showed that international law as not binding on the case at bar. Since the DOC sufficiently established the absence of alternatives to force feeding and, with the preponderance of weight imposed by penelogical objectives consistent with prohibiting self-inflicted prisoner deaths, the Connecticut Supreme Court affirmed trial court. See: Commissioner of Correction v. Coleman, 303 Conn. 800, 38 A.3d 84 (Conn. 2012), cert. denied.

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Related legal case

Commissioner of Correction v. Coleman