Prison Hunger Strike

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Prison Hunger Strike Ends, Inmates’ Health Still at Risk

Pelican Bay prison Secure Housing Unit. (Michael Montgomery/KQED)

Inside Pelican Bay State Prison’s security housing unit. (Michael Montgomery/KQED)

After 59 days, California inmates have ended their hunger strike. The prisoners had been protesting what they called aggressive use of solitary confinement, which kept some prisoners in isolation for decades.

Some 30,000 inmates began the strike on July 8, but that number dropped over time. This week there were about 100 remaining, including 40 who have been on continuous hunger strike during the two-month period. Those on hunger strike were getting by on Gatorade, totaling 600-625 calories a day, and vitamins.

In addition, advocates say the men had put on extra pounds in anticipation of the hunger strike. Some may have weighed 225 to 250 pounds at the start of the strike; others likely weighed less.

While it does not appear that any of the inmates have suffered severe health problems that can result from starvation, the process of commencing eating again must be done slowly and carefully. Anyone who has refused food over a long period of time is at risk of “refeeding syndrome,” which can cause “potentially fatal shifts” in fluids and electrolytes possibly leading to cardiac arrest and even death. Continue reading

Prison Hunger Strikers Getting by on Gatorade, Vitamins

Pelican Bay State Prison, Crescent City, CA. (Michael Montgomery/KQED)

Pelican Bay State Prison, Crescent City, CA. (Michael Montgomery/KQED)

By Michael Montgomery and Lisa Aliferis

With an inmate hunger strike over conditions at California’s highest security lockups now at day 54, it seems remarkable that none of the 41 prisoners refusing food since July 8 has experienced serious or life-threatening medical problems.

Officials monitoring the protest report that, as of Wednesday, the men had body mass indexes in the 20s, well above a danger zone established by the court-appointed receiver overseeing prison medical care. Only two of the prisoners had lost more than 15 percent of their body weight, another critical measure.

While the inmates are clearly suffering as a result of the extended fast, and report bouts of extreme nausea and dizziness, there are “no imminent health emergencies and no prisoners in critical condition,” said Joyce Hayhoe, a spokesperson for receiver Clark Kelso.

So what’s keeping the hunger strikers from more severe starvation? The answer, it turns out, could be mass quantities of Gatorade, the ubiquitous sports drink.

Under state rules, inmates are considered on hunger strike if they refuse all state meals for more than three days and have no other food items in their cells, such as snacks from the prison commissary. Continue reading