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Plata Court Authorizes Force-Feeding of Hunger-Striking California Prisoners

Plata Court Authorizes Force-Feeding of Hunger-Striking California Prisoners

By: Michael Brodheim

In August 2013, at the joint request of both the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and the Federal Receiver overseeing the delivery of medical services to California prisoners, CDCR officials received authorization to force-feed, under specific conditions, prisoners participating in a hunger strike which had commenced six weeks earlier to protest the conditions of confinement, including long-term isolation, in California security housing units.

The parties agreed that the hunger strike, described as “widespread” and “orchestrated”, posed “significant challenges” because of conflicting policies concerning the protection of patients from harm, on the one hand, and the respect of patient autonomy, on the other hand.

Specifically, the parties were concerned about the possibility that some hunger strikes may have felt pressured into signing “do not resuscitate” (DNR) directives.

To address that concern, the court overseeing the challenge to the delivery of medical care to California prisoners signed an order, jointly prepared by the parties authorizing prison doctors to initiate “refeeding or other lifesaving measures” in cases where there is reason to believe that DNR was not “the product of a hunger striker’s free will when executed.”

Significantly, this order is applicable “only to the refeeding of inmate-patients during the hunger strike which commenced on July 8, 2013.” The receiver was ordered to review and, if appropriate, revise its existing mass hunger strike policy “to address the issue of refeeding of hunger striking inmates in any future hunger strike.”

See: Plata V. Brown, U.S.D.C., N.D. Cal., Case No C01-1351 THE, Joint Request for Order Authorizing refeeding under specified conditions of hunger striking inmate-patients and order thereon, filed 8/19/13.

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Related legal case

Plata V. Brown