On July 8, 2013, tens of thousands of inmates across the state began a hunger strike protesting prison conditions, including the solitary confinement of inmates whom prison officials deem to be associated with a gang. In California, there are some 3,600 inmates currently in solitary confinement, some of whom have been in confinement for decades.
At the height of the strike, 30,000 inmates were not eating. However, the numbers quickly dwindled as hundreds of strikers fell ill within the first few weeks of the strike. At this point, about 130 inmates are still participating in the strike. Now seven weeks into the strike, as many as 69 inmates continue to refuse anything more than water, vitamins, and electrolytes. Other inmates have continued the hunger strike as well, but have not been as strict in their adherence and have eaten before going back on strike.
Medical experts expect that within the next two weeks some of the 69 who have totally refused food will enter a critical stage at which point permanent organ damage or death may be imminent. Some of these inmates have signed a “Do Not Resuscitate Order.” Under prior California prison policy, prison officials could not force feed striking inmates if they had previously signed a Do Not Resuscitate Order. However, prison officials sought a court order to change this policy, citing concerns that in this instance the Do Not Resuscitate Orders may have been coerced by gang members. Representatives for the inmates dispute the claims of coercion. Citing the concerns of coercion, a Federal Judge ruled that the Do Not Resuscitate Orders were not valid and that the prison’s medical staff could force feed the prisoners should it become necessary.