May 17, 2013

PRISONERS' RIGHTS UPDATE: Force-Feeding Not A Civil Rights Violation

A prisoner went on a hunger strike to secure a transfer to another facility. Corrections force-fed him with a nasogastric tube to keep him alive. The inmate claimed that his Constitutional rights were violated; the Court of Appeals disagreed.

He was repeatedly advised that his refusal to eat was causing potentially irreversible damage to his internal organs and, if uninterrupted, would lead to his death. A month after this hunger strike began, the inmate had lost 11.6% of his body weight, Corrections obtained a court order permitting medical personnel to insert a nasogastric tube and take other reasonable steps necessary to provide hydration and nutrition to the inmate.

The Court noted that when a policy or regulation impinges on a prisoner's constitutional rights, the action is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests, and that an inmate hunger strike can have a significant destabilizing impact on the institution. Finally, the Court stated that if correctional institutions were unable to intervene by obtaining a force-feeding order and their only choice was between doing nothing — letting the inmate die — or acceding to the inmate's demands, this would seriously hamper efforts to maintain safety and discipline within the facility. The inmate's rights were not found to have been violated.

The link to the decision is below: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2013/2013_03118.htm

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