Thursday, February 6, 2014

From Humanity to Health: Why Can't California Get Prison Healthcare Right?

Yesterday to no doubt considerable embarrassment in the Brown-Beard administration, admissions to California's newest prison near Stockton California, were halted by the court appointed health care receiver, law professor Clark Kelso.  The prison, the first new facility in a decade, is the lynch-pin of the administration's frequent claim to have gotten on top of California's decades old prison health care crisis.  The prison is the first of its kind to be purpose built to house and care for many of the state's seriously ill prisoners whose suffering in the grip the state's chronic overcrowding led the Supreme Court to describe the state's system as unfit for a civilized society in Brown v. Plata (2011).  Under pressure to show that it can make progress in reducing that overcrowding, the administration is no doubt frustrated to have to halt adding inmates to the facility intended to hold nearly 1800 prisoners at full capacity, but Receiver Kelso's order and the report accompanied it raises more basic questions as to whether the State has yet drawn any lessons from its decades of human rights abuses about what it takes to operate prisons that respect human dignity as required by the Constitution (as well international human rights conventions to which the state is answerable through the courts of the United States).

So what went wrong in this brand new prison designed from the ground up to deliver health care?  Problems with the radiation treatment equipment for cancer patients?  Problems staffing the dialysis center?  Actually the problems were a bit more basic.  As reported in the Sacramento Bee (read it here):

A shortage of towels forced prisoners to dry off with dirty socks; a shortage of soap halted showers for some inmates, and incontinent men were put into diapers and received catheters that did not fit, causing them to soil their clothes and beds, according to the inspection report and a separate finding by Kelso.
The report also said there were so few guards that a single officer watched 48 cells at a time and could not step away to use the bathroom.
Kelso said the problems at the facility call into question California's ability to take responsibility for prison health care statewide. He accused corrections officials of treating the mounting health care problems as a second-class priority, the newspaper said.

Read more here:

Spokes persons for the administration described the situation as a normal glitch associated with the rolling out of a new facility.  Perhaps.  But it also looks like business as usual in a system where medical neglect of chronically ill prisoners went on for decades under the deliberate indifference of prison administrators and governors.  Rather than apologize to the citizens of this state and seek to make amends to the prisoners, former prisoners, and correctional workers forced to experience and participate in those degrading conditions, the administration has continued with smugness to defend the status quo with an attitude that borders on contempt to the courts.  Is it surprising that actors never held to account for their human rights violations cannot create conditions that respect human rights?  Good healthcare takes medical professionals and modern infrastructure, which appear to be still lacking to a significant degree even in this brand new purpose built "Health Care Facility".  But healthcare also takes humanity.  A prison system that can't get that right, can 't run its healthcare system and shouldn't be allowed to continue to operate prisons on which the good name of the people of California is stamped.

1 comment:

  1. This is really interesting. I feel like a lot of states struggle with Prison Healthcare. There's so much to take into consideration (the safety of the prisoners, the containment of the prisoners, the health and fair treatment of the guards, the list goes on) that it's difficult to be able to get it right anywhere.

    Kat Brennan |