FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Prison Medicine and the California Hunger Strike

by COREY WEINSTEIN, MD

The Federal court decision on August 19 giving the state permission to force-feed hunger strikers deemed “at risk of near-term death or great bodily injury” is a shameful one. It violates long-established international law. The World Medical Association confirms force-feeding as an inhuman and degrading treatment that qualifies as torture by the European Court of Human Rights. Today’s order allows prisoners who previously executed “do not resuscitate” directives to be excluded, unless they were signed for the purpose of taking part in the hunger strike. It also allows officials to ignore such a directive if they determine “it was the result of coercion.”

The fact that such a sweeping order came at the request not only of corrections officials but of the court-appointed receiver’s office which oversees health care in the prisons is profoundly disturbing to those of us in the health professions who believe that our patients, including patients who are prisoners, have the right to reject unwanted medical treatment and their autonomy should be respected.

This hunger strike is historic; it will be remembered for years to come as a moment when prisoners united across deep racial divisions to assert, with their bodies on the line, what it means to be human fighting against an inhuman system. It is a moment when the prison medical department could have shown that it has been rehabilitated. It could have demonstrated its independence from the custodial culture that has overwhelmed it for so many years.  Prison medical staff had the opportunity to play a protective role for their patients who are risking their health and possibly their lives by for an end to long-term solitary confinement.  It’s a loss for everyone that they have allied themselves so shamefully with an intransigent prison administration that continues to deny the humanity of those in its custody.

The legal and advocacy team and family members of prisoners engaged in the strike have heard numerous reports of medical neglect during the last six weeks of the strike. Prisoners report that medications have been abruptly stopped with little regard for consequences, and with inadequate monitoring of the condition for which the medication was being taken.  Medications for diabetes were stopped, but no testing of blood sugar followed.  Likewise medications for high blood pressure discontinued without follow up monitoring.  Strong pain drugs have been blocked causing withdrawal symptoms rather than tapered down slowly.  Some prisoners told advocates that they had not had been weighed or their vital signs taken as mandated in the CDCR protocols, and that nurses just briskly walked the tiers saying “drink plenty of water”, rather than stopping and inquiring about each person’s condition. One hunger striker, Billy Sell, died in his cell, and those near to his cell described that his requests for medical help went unanswered.

Eight years ago the CDCR’s entire medical operation was put under Federal Court Receivership.  The Court finding of fact stated that “…it is an uncontested fact that, on average, an inmate in one of California’s prisons needlessly dies every six to seven days due to constitutional deficiencies in CDCR’s medical delivery system.  This statistic, awful as it is, barely provides a window into the waste of human life occurring behind California’s prison walls due to the gross failures of the medical delivery system.” (Plata v. Davis)

While public outrage and pressure has pushed facilities upgrades and more qualified staff have been hired, CDCR medical has not adequately altered its way of functioning. Investigative reporters recently documented the fact that between 2006 and 2010, the CDCR sterilized 250 women prisoners without their informed consent, all while under the Federal Receivership. This month the courts intervened again to order the transfer of prisoners susceptible to Valley Fever from two Central Valley prisons where more than 1,800 prisoners became ill and at least 62 died from the airborne fungus between 2008-2012.

The medical department still falls on its knees to custody and its patients suffer for that lack of independence. Yes, it takes great courage to stand against the sway of cruel custody, and I admire those who have done so despite harassment and personal sacrifice.  I’m sure there are those brave souls engaged at this time, perhaps just not enough and with not enough support from the Department or the public.

The Department of Corrections asserts that the force feeding order was requested because “the health and safety of inmates is our top priority.” After 43 days of a hunger strike, the best way to demonstrate concern for the health and safety of prisoners is to participate in good-faith discussions to reach a reasonable agreement before any more lives are lost, or any prisoners subjected to the pain and humiliation of force-feeding.

Corey Weinstein, MD is the past Chair of the International Human Rights Committee of the American Public Health Association and held Certification as a Correctional Provider from the National Commission on Correctional Health Care before retiring as a Correctional Medical Consultant.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
April 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Diana Johnstone
The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty
Paul Street
Donald Trump: Ruling Class President
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Dude, Where’s My War?
Andrew Levine
If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em
Paul Atwood
Why Does North Korea Want Nukes?
Robert Hunziker
Trump and Global Warming Destroy Rivers
Vijay Prashad
Turkey, After the Referendum
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, the DOJ and Julian Assange
CJ Hopkins
The President Formerly Known as Hitler
Steve Reyna
Replacing Lady Liberty: Trump and the American Way
Lucy Steigerwald
Stop Suggesting Mandatory National Service as a Fix for America’s Problems
Robert Fisk
It is Not Just Assad Who is “Responsible” for the Rise of ISIS
John Laforge
“Strike Two” Against Canadian Radioactive Waste Dumpsite Proposal
Norman Solomon
The Democratic Party’s Anti-Bernie Elites Have a Huge Stake in Blaming Russia
Andrew Stewart
Can We Finally Get Over Bernie Sanders?
Susan Babbitt
Don’t Raise Liberalism From the Dead (If It is Dead, Which It’s Not)
Uri Avnery
Palestine’s Nelson Mandela
Fred Nagel
It’s “Deep State” Time Again
John Feffer
The Hunger President
Stephen Cooper
Nothing is Fair About Alabama’s “Fair Justice Act”
Jack Swallow
Why Science Should Be Political
Chuck Collins
Congrats, Graduates! Here’s Your Diploma and Debt
Aidan O'Brien
While God Blesses America, Prometheus Protects Syria, Russia and North Korea 
Patrick Hiller
Get Real About Preventing War
David Rosen
Fiction, Fake News and Trump’s Sexual Politics
Evan Jones
Macron of France: Chauncey Gardiner for President!
David Macaray
Adventures in Labor Contract Language
Ron Jacobs
The Music Never Stopped
Kim Scipes
Black Subjugation in America
Sean Stinson
MOAB: More Obama and Bush
Miguel A. Cruz-Díaz
Minute Musings: On Why the United States Should Launch a Tomahawk Strike on Puerto Rico
Tom Clifford
The Return of “Mein Kampf” … in Japan
Todd Larsen
Concerned About Climate Change? Change Where You Bank!
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Brexit: Britain’s Opening to China?
John Hutchison
Everything Old is New Again: a Brief Retrospectus on Korea and the Cold War
Michael Brenner
The Ghost in the Dream Machine
Yves Engler
The Military Occupation of Haiti
Christopher Brauchli
Guardians of Lies
James Preece
How Labour Can Win the Snap Elections
Cesar Chelala
Preventing Disabilities in the Elderly
Sam Gordon
From We Shall Overcome to Where Have all the Flowers Gone?
Charles Thomson
It’s Still Not Too Late to Deserve Your CBE, Chris Ofili
Louis Proyect
Documentaries That Punch
Charles R. Larson
Review: Vivek Shanbhag’s “Ghachar Ghochar”
David Yearsley
Raiding the Tomb of Lubitsch
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail