A Superior Court judge in Connecticut has ruled that prison officials in the U.S. state may continuing force-feeding a British man on hunger strike over what he claims is a wrongful conviction for rape.
William "Bill" Coleman - whose current age is not being reported but will be 52 years old in 2012, the year he is due for release - was convicted in 2005 of raping the wife from whom he was estranged. The couple were also involved in a custody battle.
Coleman, whose wife is British too and like him had been living and working in the U.S. illegally, was sentenced to 15 years in prison following his conviction, with that sentence suspended after eight years.
Upon release from prison Coleman, the subject of a website set up to maintain his innocence, is due to be deported to the U.K.
In 2007 Coleman began what the Hartford Courant describes as "on-again, off-again hunger strike" which in 2008 saw him begin to refuse fluids and the state begin to force-feed him.
The Associated Press confirms that the hunger strike was prompted by an unsuccessful appeal by Coleman and between the beginning of the strike in 2007 and September 2008 the British man had seen his weight drop from more than 250 pounds to 137 pounds.
Represented in court by the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut (ACLU-CT) Coleman has argued that both his right to privacy and free speech permit him to refuse food and/or fluids.
The Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC) contends that the law obliges it to ensure the physical welfare of prisoners and has expressed fears that should Coleman die as a result of his hunger strike - apparently he is willing to allow that to happen - there may be protests, as well as other prisoners following his example.
In addition the DOC's Clinical Director, Dr. Edward Blanchette, has responded to claims by Coleman that he has been in pain when being force-fed through a tube inserted in his nose by observing:I was as gentle as I could be in the face of a patient who was resisting me at the time
And in a ruling that ran to 46 pages, and may well lead to an appeal by the ACLU on behalf of Coleman, Superior Court Judge James T. Graham agreed that officials - the facility at which Coleman is being held has not been named - had not acted unlawfully by force-feeding their prisoner and could continue to feed him against his will.
According to the Hartford Courant part of the opinion issued by Judge Graham reads:There is no exact equivalent in the history of Connecticut penology. However, the weight of the evidence persuades the court that, in a probability, there will be a negative impact on the safety, security and order of at least the correctional institution where he was last resident before his death
A further extract from the opinion is said to state:Neither the state or federal free speech guarantees allow Coleman to continue his hunger strike in contradiction to the penological needs of the prison
ACLU attorney David McGuire has called the ruling "flawed at its core" on the basis that it "disregards the choice of a competent individual to refuse medical treatment".