THERESA C. LANTZ, COMMISSIONER, DEPARTMENT
OF CORRECTION v. WILLIAM B. COLEMAN, SC 18721
Judicial District of Hartford
Prisoners; Whether Force-Feeding an Inmate Violates the Constitution and International Law. In September, 2007, shortly after his convictions were affirmed on appeal, William B. Coleman, who is imprisoned, began a hunger strike as a form of protest. Coleman wants to draw attention to what he perceives to be a broken judicial system that, according to him, led to his wrongful conviction. In January, 2008, the department of correction (department) brought this action for a permanent injunction permitting it to use force to feed, hydrate and administer medically necessary care to Coleman. Coleman claimed that such an injunction would violate his first amendment right to free speech. The trial court, applying the four prong test set forth in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987), for evaluating the constitutionality of a correction department's action, rejected Coleman's claim, noting that (a) there was a rational, valid connection between the department's desire to force-feed Coleman and its interest in protecting the safety and security of its prisons and its statutory duty to preserve the health and life of all inmates; (b) Coleman had alternative means of exercising his first amendment right to protest; (c) Coleman's death would have a negative effect on staff, inmates and order within the prison; and (d) there was no ready alternative to force-feeding Coleman that would meet the state's valid penological goals. Next, the court rejected Coleman's claim that the relief sought by the department violates international law, stating that there is no international consensus as to whether it is ethical or unethical for a physician or correctional authority to allow a prisoner to refuse nutrition if the prisoner may die or suffer severe injury as a consequence. Finally, Coleman argued that his interest in bodily integrity outweighed the department's interest in force-feeding him. The trial court found that the state's interests in force-feeding Coleman were the preservation of life, the protection of innocent dependents — Coleman's two minor sons — and the maintenance of safety, security and order in its correctional facility. Balancing these factors against Coleman's right to bodily integrity, the court concluded that equity favored granting a permanent injunction to allow Coleman to be force-fed. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will review the trial court's decision.