History repeated itself last week when the Hartford Superior Court judge who issued a 2009 injunction that allowed the Department of Corrections to force-feed an inmate on a hunger strike, issued an injunction regarding another hunger striking inmate.
In January 2009 Superior Court Judge James T. Graham issued a temporary injunction that allowed prison officials to force feed inmate William Coleman who had stopped eating and refused to take fluids in protest of his conviction.
Around March 21 another inmate, Dickens Etienne incarcerated at Northern Correctional Institute in Somers, also declared a hunger strike.
Etienne received a life sentence without parole after he was convicted of first-degree murder in New Hampshire as well as witness tampering, theft, robbery, burglary and trespassing, according to a complaint filed by the DOC. He was transferred into Connecticut custody late last month and almost immediately started refusing to eat or drink, it said.
Since then, Etienne has lost 18 pounds, his blood pressure has dropped and his heart rate has increased, indicating a lowered blood volume, the complaint said. Etienne has also refused to consent to blood tests, it said.
“The defendant cannot continue much longer in his refusal of fluids and food without causing himself permanent physical damage or death,” Corrections Department Dr. Carson Wright found.
Etienne, who is currently being treated at the University of Connecticut’s John Dempsey Hospital in Farmington, is being held in Connecticut as part of an interstate compact with New Hampshire.
Michael Lawlor, undersecretary for the Office of Policy and Management’s Criminal Justice Policy and Planning division, said Tuesday that decisions to send or receive prisoners is done on a case by case basis. He said he doesn’t know the specifics of this case, but traditionally prisoners are sent to other states if there are safety reasons that preclude them being housed in their own state.
Asked about the cost to the state of Connecticut, Lawlor said this case hasn’t reached that point yet, but if it does it can always send the prisoner back to the other state. On the other hand, not knowing what the reasons are for the hunger strike, prison officials don’t want to be giving into the demands of a prisoner if the goal of the hunger strike is to get him transferred back to New Hampshire, Lawlor said.
Judge Graham granted the Department of Corrections’ temporary injunction to force feed Etienne Friday last week.