Thursday, November 1, 2007

What do you get from mass incarceration? Staph

Correctional officers at Folsom State Prison here in California were hospitalized recently. The culprit wasn't a prisoner, it was Staphylococcus aureus, sometimes called "staph," typically a relatively minor infection (although I've always had bad experiences with it) but buffed up into a life threatening virus in the conditions of California's catastrophically overcrowded prisons (Folsom has 4,000 inmates in a complex "designed" for half that number).

The incident was brought before California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health (CalOSHA) by the correctional officers' union (CCPOA)on behalf of the stricken officers and yesterday the agency fined the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation $21,000 according to Judy Lin's reporting in the SacBee.

The ruling is yet another measure of the prison's system deepening crisis. The crisis and the lawsuits that have brought the crises to the public attention have exposed a different side of mass imprisonment. The point of prison may be punishment (at least California law says so), but it is ultimately the government of human beings that is involved. When a population is herded together with virtually no thought to its human needs what follows is at best a human rights disaster and at worst the start of biological catastrophes that can threaten the general population (both prisoners and correctional officers come home).

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