The California Prison hunger strike that began on July 8 reached a critical stage this week when authorities were given the go ahead to force feed inmates as they near death. At the time the order was issued, approximately 129 men were still participating in the strike and 69 of those had been starving themselves since the beginning meaning that organ failure may be imminent. While no one wants to see the prisoners die, the decision to allow force feeding has angered lawyers and advocacy groups, who say state officials have chosen to dig in their heels at this crucial juncture, rather than make a good faith effort to negotiate an end to what they call the hunger strike "disturbance".

The force feeding ruling is particularly controversial, as it allows prison officials to override do-not-resuscitate (DNR) directives previously signed by many of the hunger strikers. Lawyers for the state argued that some inmates may have been coerced into signing these directives, but prisoner advocates claim there is little evidence that this is the case.

As Carol Strickman, a Staff Attorney for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, who has acted as mediator on behalf of the hunger strikers, says: "At the very least, the men who voluntarily signed the directives should have been represented in court." Jules Lobel, the President of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, who represents some of the hunger strikers in a lawsuit over prison conditions, also expressed regret about the ruling: “Force feeding should only ever be used as a last resort after all other alternatives have been exhausted.”

One of those alternatives is to provide the inmates with juice or other liquid nutrients, which Lobel says the state has been deliberately withholding, the other is to negotiate, at least around the demands the state finds reasonable.

For now, the state has chosen to overlook these alternatives in a move that is likely to exacerbate the standoff, rather than end it. The biggest problem with force feeding, apart from its inherent brutality, is that it solves nothing. As we have seen in Guantánamo Bay where inmates are still on hunger strike, force feeding has not ended their protest, just prolonged it indefinitely.

Force feeding prisoners does not play very well with the public either. Military officials came under intense criticism when details of the standard operating procedures for the "Medical Management of Detainees on Hunger Strike" in Guantánamo were leaked to the media.

According to AP, California officials are already claiming that their feeding methods are likely to be less invasive than those used on Guantánamo detainees, who are shackled to a chair with a mask over their mouth as a tube is snaked through their nose and down their throat. Even if the feeding methods are more humane, however, it won't change the fact that prisoners are being forced to eat against their will. More importantly, it will do nothing to address the reasons why the prisoners stopped eating to begin with.

For now, the question is how much uglier this is going to get before there is any kind of resolution. The Irish hunger striker, Bobby Sands, died after 66 days of starvation. Many of the California hunger strikers are just over two weeks shy of that fateful marker. Time is running out on intransigence, but intransigence still rules the day. In an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Jeffrey Beard, the Head of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), made it abundantly clear that there was no softening of position on their side. He wrote that the hunger strike has little to do with living conditions in the Secure Housing Units (SHU)'s, but was simply an attempt by violent gang members to "restore their ability to terrorise fellow prisoners, prison staff, and communities throughout California.”

Also writing for the Los Angeles Times, Tom Hayden, a former California State Senator, pointed out that such combative rhetoric from the CDCR is hardly what's needed at this point. He suggested that if a catastrophe is to be averted, the only way forward is for the CDCR and the prisoners to find some middle ground. The CDCR is clearly not going to grant the prisoners' main request of ending indefinite solitary confinement, at least not within the next two weeks. There's no reason they could not negotiate with the prisoners on their supplemental demands, however, such as granting them an occasional phone call, longer visiting time with family, and better food.

The indications are that many officials within the CDCR do not see these demands as unreasonable, but for now both sides are stuck at an impasse. And so, the countdown to force feeding time begins.

Clearly, California authorities do not want inmates starving themselves to death at a time when federal courts have already ruled that the state's chronically overcrowded prison system fails to meet constitutionally acceptable standards.

It is unfortunate, however, that they have opted to use heavy-handed tactics to suppress the protest, instead of attempting to address its underlying causes. Nevertheless, force feeding may prevent their deaths, but it won't make their problem, or the CDCR's, go away.

 The writer is a film-maker, and many of her opinion pieces were published in the Chicago Tribune and Irish Times.  This article has been reprinted from     The Guardian.