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IV DripGovernor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent decision to renege on a plan to build two prison hospitals for California inmates has met with intense national criticism and highlighted the dire healthcare situation for prisoners in the United States.

This is hardly the first time that the state of California has demonstrated a blatant disregard for the quality of life of its prisoners. In February, a federal court ruled that California’s prison system provides an unconstitutional level of medical care to its more than 150,000 inmates. As a result of the ruling, over the next three years, California must reduce overcrowding in its prisons by releasing around a third of its total inmate population.

But California is not alone in its medical mistreatment of prisoners. Correctional institutions are legally required to provide the same medical care to prisoners as that available to the public—including preventative care, care for chronic conditions, and mental treatment.

Unfortunately, many prisons contract private, for-profit providers that care more about keeping costs low than improving inmates’ health. In 2005, the New York Times ran a series called “Harsh Medicine” by Paul von Zielbauer that exposed the unlawful, unethical practices of Prison Health Services, a medical-care provider for prisons in New York state. After ten deaths in New York prisons, investigators discovered “medical staffs trimmed to the bone, doctors underqualified or out of reach, nurses doing tasks beyond their training, prescription drugs withheld, patient records unread and employee misconduct unpunished.”

Take the story of Brian Tetrault, a 44 year-old with Parkinson’s disease who died after ten days in a New York county jail when he was denied medication he needed for his condition. As von Zielbauer writes:

Over…10 days, Mr. Tetrault slid into a stupor, soaked in his own sweat and urine. But he never saw the jail doctor again, and the nurses dismissed him as a faker. After his heart finally stopped, investigators said, correction officers at the Schenectady jail doctored records to make it appear he had been released before he died.

Despite state investigators finding Prison Health Services responsible for the death of Tetrault and at least nine others, PHS continues to be one of the most popular healthcare providers for prisons in the United States.

Coming later this year, Part 2 of “Healthcare in prisons” on 1 in 100 will closely examine specific medical issues in prisons, including HIV/AIDS, drug treatment, and the need for access to condoms and needle-exchange programs.

Click here to read the transcript for a Democracy Now! interview with Paul von Zielbauer, the author of “Harsh Medicine.”

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