Judge May Put CA Prison Health Care Into Receivership

by TChris

"Lock 'em up forever" legislation has been popular for a quarter century. The consequences of harsh sentencing laws -- predicted by participants in the criminal justice system but routinely ignored by politicians eager to seem tough on crime -- are painful today. Prisons overflow with aging inmates, and state budgets groan under the increasing weight of geriatric health care bills.

Feeling pressure to adhere to tight budgets, prison administrators and staff sometimes neglect their duty to provide adequate health care to inmates. A federal judge recently recognized that the problem in California is of constitutional magnitude.

Health care in the Department of Corrections has become so unconstitutionally shoddy, U.S. District Judge Thelton E. Henderson found, that he is seriously considering the appointment of a receiver under his control to manage a system that he said is in "a blatant state of crisis."

As the Sacramento Bee reports, neglecting an inmate's health can be disastrous.

Prison doctors didn't believe an inmate who said he couldn't move after being beaten by other prisoners. The prisoner still couldn't get out of his bunk the next day.

This time, according to state Medical Board records, the responding physician in charge "was observed to chastise and berate the patient, and to tell him there was nothing wrong with him." Nothing, that is, except a traumatic dislocation of his spine, a subsequent medical examination revealed, probably from a fall during the fight. It was an injury that required a cervical fusion, and it left the inmate a quadriplegic, the Medical Board records showed.

Judge Henderson is presiding over a class action lawsuit initiated by the Prison Law Office in San Rafael. Steve Fama, an attorney for the Office, says "We're talking about people being killed because of bad care or unavailable care." The lawsuit persuaded Judge Henderson to order California to show cause why the prison health care system shouldn't be placed into receivership.

Judge Henderson was unwilling to wait for the state to comply with a 2001 consent decree that required California to improve inmate health care. It was "clear to the court that more (inmates) are sure to suffer and die if the system is not immediately overhauled."

According to Henderson's 18-page order, state correctional officials "have publicly conceded their inability" to fix prison health care. Even the new team appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has promised "fantastic" prison reform, has "failed to demonstrate that they have the will and capacity to make the necessary changes," Henderson wrote.

Judge Henderson will decide in July whether to appoint a receiver to manage the Department of Corrections' provision of health care. California's politicians created this problem by pandering to "get tough on crime" voters. Now they're afraid to pay the political price of correcting the problem. Judge Henderson should do what the state's elected representatives lack the courage to do: assure that every inmate receives constitutionally required health care.

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    Re: Judge May Put CA Prison Health Care Into Recei (none / 0) (#1)
    by scarshapedstar on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 12:59:17 PM EST
    Honestly, when Abu Ghraib is a fratboy prank, what can we expect?

    Re: Judge May Put CA Prison Health Care Into Recei (none / 0) (#2)
    by Dadler on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 12:59:17 PM EST
    The threat to public health due to this kind of inhumane neglect should give every citizen serious pause. Vengeance can bite us all in the ass, and years later.

    Re: Judge May Put CA Prison Health Care Into Recei (none / 0) (#3)
    by DawesFred60 on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 12:59:17 PM EST
    Well so the system wants more AIDS To kill more people, it has its logic in many ways. in fact why have any kind of care for people in prison at all? if this can be sold to you the next move is to sell it by good old propaganda, that poor people don't really need care and after all that is the real bush plan that will help make a real third world usa. what you are really seeing is the start of the dismantling of your health system that is plan and being helped by bush and business. right now california is under what? who let it get like that? who is using this as a tool? by the way if you don't understand this outrage understand one fact young white males are the growing population and will out number blacks in the coming years, have fun in your brain dead world.

    Re: Judge May Put CA Prison Health Care Into Recei (none / 0) (#4)
    by kdog on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 12:59:17 PM EST
    "As long as there is a lower class, I am in it. As long as there is a criminal element, I am of it. As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free." - Eugene Debs Is this still one of the goals of our once great nation? Or have these ideals, like the Geneva Convention, become quaint and outdated? Or for my Christian friends, WWJD?