Prison hunger strikes usually do not make international news, unless they involve political prisoners, such as the Irish Republican Army hunger strike in 1983 that led to the starvation deaths of 10 prisoners, or the one that is currently going on at Guantanamo Bay.
The deaths of the Irish hunger strikers lead to harsh criticism of the British government. The decision not to force feed the inmates inevitably led to their deaths and elevation as martyrs by supporters throughout the world.
Perhaps realizing that the self-starvation deaths of Muslim hunger strikers being detained at Guantanamo might ignite storms of protest against America, the U.S. government has embarked on a been force-feeding campaign in an effort to keep them alive (see “The Hunger Strike at Guantanamo Bay,” Reentry Central May 6, 2013).
Because of the huge numbers of prisoners claiming to be on hunger strike in California, the media has been covering the story. On May 8, an estimated 30,000 California inmates went on hunger strike in protest of a variety of issues, primarily the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) policy of placing those with reputed ties to gangs into solitary confinement, sometimes for decades. At this date the exact number of inmates currently on hunger strike is unknown. CDCR officially considers a person to be on hunger strike only after refusing food for nine consecutive days. Supporters of the hunger strikers are hoping that CDCR will meet the demands of the inmates, and that no prisoners will die of starvation.
It is unlikely that CDCR officials will ever let that happen, not necessarily for humane reasons, but for the backlash that would be sure to follow.
So far, CDCR has stated that there is no plan to force feed the inmates. Pro Publica reports that there are laws in California that prevent force feeding of inmates on hunger strike, but that these laws can be side-stepped if the safety of inmates is jeopardized.