Relatives say California inmates on hunger strike getting sick, weak

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AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

Demonstrators hold up signs during a rally in front of the State Building in San Francisco, Friday, July 1, 2011 to support prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison.

Advocates say California prison inmates on a hunger strike are getting sicker and weaker, with some nearing severe dehydration. Inmates in a number of California prisons began refusing food 12 days ago. Prison officials say they’re concerned - but, they say, no inmates have reached a “crisis” stage.

Advocates supporting the hunger strike say 200 inmates in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay are “progressing rapidly” toward organ damage from extreme dehydration.

Molly Porzig with Critical Resistance says the information came from a prison medical team member who wants to remain anonymous.

Porzig says the medical staff told advocates “Prisoners are not able to drink water because when they try to, they vomit it back up. Some prisoners are suffering from renal failure and are unable to make urine for three days.”

Porzig says some of those inmates have received intravenous infusions of glucose. She also says relatives that visited the prisons over the weekend reported seeing inmates faint in the visiting area or go into diabetic shock. Some inmates told family members they’ve lost 20 to 30 pounds.

“I think the information that’s in the news release is largely exaggerated” says Nancy Kincaid, a spokeswoman for the court-appointed federal receiver in charge of prison medical care.

Kincaid says doctors and nurses are closely monitoring inmate health and will provide medical care to the inmates that want it.

But, she says “at this time we have no inmates who are refusing liquids and we have no report of inmates who are refusing medication. There are inmates who are refusing medical care. They have the right to do that.”

Prison officials say the number of inmates refusing food in California prisons has dropped to 795 at six prisons. That’s down from a high of 6,600 at 13 prisons.

Corrections Department spokeswoman Terry Thornton says there’s no way to determine which inmates are consuming only water and which are refusing to eat state food in solidarity with the call for revamped policies, because inmates can purchase their own food from the prison canteen.

“Some inmates have been seen eating food items that they’ve purchased from the canteen. Some have not,” Thornton says. “Some inmates are refusing to be weighed. That may be an indication that they are eating. It’s really hard to say because they’re refusing that medical evaluation”

Thornton says most of the inmates still refusing to eat state food are in Security Housing Units at Pelican Bay, Corcoran and the California Correctional Institution at Tehachapi.

Corrections officials have refused a request by KPCC to visit the SHU at Pelican Bay State Prison.

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