August 22, 2013
Some have defined the state as a monopoly on violence. Now California wants to be sure it monopolizes coercion as well. It’s almost too ironic that the justification given for ignoring hunger striking inmates’ Do Not Resuscitate requests and force feeding them is the entirely unsupported claim that some of them have been “coerced” into hunger striking and signing the DNRs in the first place.
Make no mistake that solitary confinement is torture, and that prisoners are right to protest its use. Sarah Shourd was once held in isolation by the Iranian government and describes solitary confinement thusly:
It’s the most extreme isolation in the history of humankind: some 80,000 people in America’s prisons are being held in solitary confinement. They are people who haven’t shared a meal with someone else for years. Others haven’t experienced physical contact—or even seen a tree—for decades. They are isolated from almost everything, living in small, box-like cells surrounded by high walls and heavily guarded fences.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has stated that solitary confinement constitutes torture, a view which is shared by many human rights groups including Amnesty International. The UN also found that being confined for more than 15 days can result in permanent psychological damage. Yet, the United States keeps more humans in solitary confinement than any other nation. California’s illegally overcrowded, illegally sterilizing prison system keeps record numbers of prisoners in solitary confinement, mostly for the offense of having been accused of gang membership by other prisoners.
If there was any doubt about how prisoners feel about solitary confinement, it’s helpful to realize that protesters are near death from hunger. They knew that could happen before the torture stopped, which is why they signed the DNRs in the first place. So not only has this judge stripped from the protesters the right to choose death with dignity, but he’s authorized that their rights be violated with forced feedings. If you’ve forgotten what force feeding looks like, here’s Mos Def undergoing the procedure.
Maybe you’re having trouble empathizing with the protesters because they’re criminals. Maybe it would be helpful to know that 15% of California’s state prisoners are incarcerated for drug offences. America has one million people incarcerated right now for non-violent crimes.
Maybe it doesn’t matter what these people did because it’s still not okay to torture them, and then force feed them (another form of torture) when they protest their torture. Regardless of their crimes, whatever danger well-treated prisoners pose is far exceeded by that of judges and bureaucrats who feel perfectly comfortable locking sovereign citizens in soundproof cages, strapping them to chairs and forcing tubes up their noses and down their throats.
This post originally appeared at Thoughts on Liberty.