As of January 15th, 2023, it has been more than four days since at least 72 inmates have began a hunger strike to protest the harsh solitary confinement practices in Texas’ prison system. This protest began on the first day of the state’s legislative session, attempting to urge the state legislature to consider changes in prison policy regarding solitary confinement. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TJDC) has confirmed the hunger strike is ongoing. The prisoners on strike are specifically protesting the practice of indefinite solitary confinement, where a prisoners can be placed in solitary confinement indefinitely and have no means of knowing when and if they’ll be released back to the general population. Thousands of prisoners are kept in solitary confinement in Texas, with over 500 prisoners having been in solitary confinement for over a decade. Texas’ solitary confinement policy is some of the harshest in the United States, and inmates in solitary confinement have very little human contact. They are only released from their cells for showers or in confined outdoor spaces for “solo recreation”.
An activist working closely with the protesters said that while over 300 individuals were involved when the strike began, there are somewhere around 120 protesters still refusing food. A press release from those striking states: “[o]ur protest will remain peaceful and spans all races and religions to improve the conditions for all within the confines of the TDCJ.” Plans for this protest have been in the works for about a year.
Prison staff has stated that the prisoners on hunger strike will be evaluated daily and if it comes to it, doctors can and will force feed any prisoner whose condition deteriorates. The Texas Correctional Managed Health Care Policy Manual provides guidelines regarding how hunger strikes may be handled. It states that medical monitoring will begin after 72 hours without food, unless it becomes medically necessary sooner. The policy regarding force feeding states that if “the inmate is determined to lack medical decision-making capacity and based on a medical evaluation by a facility provider the inmate is at risk of serious harm, the inmate may be force-fed in the TDCJ regional infirmaries or psychiatric inpatient facilities… The decision to force feed must be supported by documentation in the health record and concurred with by a Senior or Regional Medical Director and a psychiatrist.”
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