Two weeks into their hunger strike that began on July 8, 2013, striking prisoners and their allies in the California State Penal system began reporting an increase in denial of medical care, withdrawal of vital medications and other punitive actions against hunger strikers by physicians and nurses as well as other prison officials. Because of a concerted attempt by the authorities to censor the strikers to keep the strike out of the news, we were unable to determine the precise number of strikers who were being affected by these punitive actions. However, dozens of letters from affected strikers got out to supporters. A doctor who withdrew cardiac medication, Dr. Sayre at Pelican Bay, has previously been documented for violations of prisoners’ rights.
As in 2011, numerous medical professionals again joined us in challenging this unethical medical behavior. By July 28, we had collected well over 100 endorsements for the statement below.
On July 27, shortly before this statement was to be released, we learned that the first hunger striker had died at Corcoran State Prison on July 22nd, although this information had not been shared by CDCR even as they claimed to be meeting in good faith with advocates for the prisoners, and was only reluctantly confirmed days later after news got out from other prisoners at Corcoran. The precise details around the death of Billy Sell, a 32 year-old man whose artwork had been published in prisoner newsletters, were unclear. CDCR said that he committed suicide by hanging and had broken his hunger strike, but this was contradicted by other prisoners who insist he was still on strike and had been requesting — and not receiving — medical care for days.
As such, the decision was made to continue to collect endorsements for this statement, even though the main list of initial signers will have already been published by the Prisoner Hungerstrike Solidarity Coalition.
For the third time in three years, thousands of prisoners in California are currently on hunger strike, protesting the widespread use of punitive long-term solitary confinement in the Security Housing Units (SHUs), in some cases for over 30 years continuously. (1)
The current strike began on July 8, and over 1,000 prisoners have now gone over two weeks without food, supported by over 30,000 who abstained from eating for shorter periods. Two years ago when the 2011 California prison hunger strikes mobilized over 12,000 people at their peak, the State agreed to make significant improvements in prison conditions; but has not carried through on most promised changes, particularly regarding use of long term and indefinite isolation.
As healthcare providers, we are issuing this statement to register our concern with reports that appropriate medical care is being denied the hunger striking prisoners. While there has been a concerted attempt by the authorities to censor the strikers to keep the strike out of the news, dozens of letters from affected strikers at a number of prisons have gotten out to supporters repeating similar details of medical neglect and abuse:
- Medications are being withheld in an attempt to coerce prisoners into abandoning their protest. According to attorney Marilyn McMahon, pain relief medication in particular is being withheld, “even if it’s medicine that should not be cut abruptly, but instead tapered off.” In one case a patient with heart failure has had his medications discontinued on the dubious assertion that he doesn’t need them because he’s on a hunger strike.
- Prison medical staff are required to monitor the health of prisoners on hunger strike, yet we hear that some institutions are violating this protocol, including not weighing the hunger strikers as required. There are also reports that nurses who are required to conduct daily checks are simply advising the prisoners to drink a lot of water. In other cases physicians have been dismissive of patient complaints, prisoners in need are being refused care and ignored, and in some cases even mocked by the very healthcare practitioners they are supposed to be able to depend upon for care.
- Some prisoners have told the prison authorities that they are refusing solid foods only, but CDCR refuses to provide them with liquid sustenance other than water, and guards have even confiscated any such liquids that they had in their cells.
- Many prisoners have indicated that they are not being provided with medical release form #7385, which they need to send to their loved ones, family members or to outside supporters so that these people on the outside can access their medical records.
- Several prisoners have been reclassified as “not on hunger strike” because they have been accused of having food in their cells. This means that they “have to start over” and go 9 consecutive meals before being considered on hunger strike again, regardless of whether or not they have in fact broken their strike. Determining who is on hunger strike in such an arbitrary manner means that prisoners who may not have eaten for weeks will be dropped off the list for medical oversight.
Similar denial of appropriate medical monitoring and medications occurred during the 2011 prisoners’ hunger strikes, and led concerned medical professionals to issue a statement condemning such coercive neglect as both unethical and illegal under California Penal Code Section 673.(2) Furthermore, such acts of deliberate indifference to a patient’s serious medical needs constitute a violation of prisoners’ Eighth Amendment Constitutional rights.
Today, we the undersigned find ourselves tragically having to echo the statement of two years ago, in registering our grave concern about these allegations, and in strongly urging Receiver J. Clark Kelso and the California Medical Board to investigate these claims. We urge CDCR to ensure that no prisoner on hunger strike be disciplined or threatened with the denial of medical care, that prisoners not be denied liquids, vitamins or any other form of sustenance they are willing to take, and that they receive appropriate medical care. We demand all medical professionals uphold their code of ethics and maintain the highest standards of care for all their patients – be they incarcerated or not.
Finally, we call upon Governor Jerry Brown and CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard to enter into good faith negotiations with the prisoner representatives, and to respond to their demands, in order to end this crisis before lives are lost.
(1) The prisoners’ original five core demands are: 1. End Group Punishment & Administrative Abuse; 2. Abolish the Debriefing Policy, and Modify Active/Inactive Gang Status Criteria; 3. Comply with the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006 Recommendations Regarding an End to Long-Term Solitary Confinement; 4. Provide Adequate and Nutritious Food; 5. Expand and Provide Constructive Programming and Privileges for Indefinite SHU Status Inmates. These are elaborated in more detail on the Prisoner Hungerstrike Coalition website at http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/the-prisoners-demands-2/.
(2) California Penal Code Section 673: “It shall be unlawful to use in the reformatories, institutions, jails, state hospitals or any other state, county, or city institution any cruel, corporal or unusual punishment or to inflict any treatment or allow any lack of care whatever which would injure or impair the health of the prisoner, inmate, or person confined; and punishment by the use of the strait jacket, gag, thumbscrew, shower bath or the tricing up of a prisoner, inmate or person confined is hereby prohibited. Any person who violates the provisions of this section or who aids, abets, or attempts in any way to contribute to the violation of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”
The complete text of the 2011 Medical Providers’ Statement can be found online at http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/medical-professionals-support-the-hunger-strike/
To endorse the above statement, please email email@example.com. Please also include your credentials and organizational affiliation for identification purposes.
Additionally, we urge that you fax, mail (or call) at least one letter of concern and protest to the following officials (with copies to me and to your local newspapers and/or radio station):
J. Clark Kelso, Receiver
California Correctional Health Care Services
P.O. Box 588500
Elk Grove, CA 95758
Telephone: (916) 691-3000 (phone tree)
Fax: (916) 691-6183
CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard
P O Box 942883
15_15_ “S” Street, 5th Floor
Sacramento CA 94283
Main Phone: (916) 445.5073
Main Fax: (916) 327.3317
By Email – General Inquiries: Webmaster@bscc.ca.gov <mailto:Webmaster@bscc.ca.gov>
Beard is also the chairman of the California Prison Industry Board. Contact info for the board:
Phone: (916) 358-2677
The Honorable Edmund G. Brown, Jr.
Governor of the State of California
State Capitol #1173
Sacramento, CA 95814
455 Golden Gate Ave.,
San Francisco CA 94102
PO Box 942849
Assemblymember Melissa A. Melendez,
Vice Chair Public Safety Committee
PO Box 942849
Thanks for your continuing support of the rights of prisoners confined to the SHUs (the black holes of isolation) which are used sadistically to destroy the humanity of thousands of prisoners. I am also placing a link here above my name to a letter written last year by a physician who worked many years at the Pelican Bay facility within the isolation unit wherein he documents consistent mistreatment (he uses the word torture) of SHU prisoners.
Endorsed by:[signaturelist id=”1″]