Oakland – With the second phase of a massive California prisoner hunger strike in its third week, prisoners have begun to report grave medical issues. “Men are collapsing in their cells because they haven’t eaten in two weeks,” says a family member of a striker at Calipatria state prison, “I have been told that guards refuse to respond when called. This is clearly a medical emergency.” In an effort to isolate prisoners perceived by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to be leaders, some prisoners at Pelican Bay have been removed from the Security Housing Unit (SHU) to Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg). The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition has received reports that prison officials have been attempting to freeze out strikers held in the Ad-Seg Unit at Pelican Bay, using the air conditioning system in conjunction with cold weather conditions where the prison is located. Last week a hunger striker in Pelican Bay was taken to a hospital in Oregon after he suffered a heart attack. Prisoners have also been denied medications, including prescriptions for high blood pressure.
The CDCR has been treating the current strike, which began on September 26th, as a mass disturbance and has refused negotiations. “The prisoners are saying that they are willing to take this to death if necessary to win their demands,” says Dorsey Nunn, executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and a member of the mediation team working on behalf of the prisoners. “Any deaths that result from the men starving themselves will be on the hands of the CDCR. We are at a point were we are calling on the media to make inquiries on prison protocol if and when prisoners begin to die. If they want to avoid that kind of scenario, the CDCR can start negotiating.” Prisoners at Corcoran have stated “Due to what they have done here to us, some men have stopped drinking water completely, so we may well be close to death in a few days.”
Prisoners and advocates have expressed serious concerns about the state of medical care in Corcoran, Calipatria, Pelican Bay and Salinas Valley where the strike continues. Dr. Michael Sayre, who is the Chief Medical Officer at Pelican Bay was sued successfully by a prisoner in 2009 for knowingly disregarding his severe medical needs. In addition, Sayre was also investigated and disciplined surrounding the death of a prisoner in Washington State in 1992 during surgery. “The California Prison system is in federal receivership in part due to the substandard medical care provided inside,” says Terry Kupers, a member of the mediation team and an expert on prison health issues, “It is my professional opinion that the hunger strikers are not receiving the care that they need and that their conditions could be exacerbated by the CDCR, especially if force-feeding comes into play.” Force-feeding is a common practice used against prisoners who refuse to eat and can involve forcing a tube into the person’s stomach via the nose. The practice has been widely condemned as torture by hundreds of doctors worldwide.
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