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Posts Tagged ‘prison overcrowding’

California PrisonsAs individuals across the U.S. endure furloughs, plummeting 401(k) plans, and job losses, state governments are struggling through their own fiscal battles—particularly California. The Golden State has officially become The Bankrupt State, juggling a $26 billion deficit and millions in cuts to much-needed social and government programs.

Conveniently enough, however, California’s fiscal crisis coincides with a recent federal ruling that the state come up with a plan to release 40,000 of its prisoners over the next two years—a move that could instantly ease some of the state’s financial woes while vastly improving conditions in its overcrowded prisons.

The problems within California’s broken prison system have become alarmingly apparent in recent weeks: a prison riot in Chino on August 10 injured nearly 250 inmates and caused extensive damage to the prison. The prison was desperately overcrowded, with 5,900 men packed into a facility designed to hold only 3,000 bodies. This trend of overcrowding has become a hallmark of California’s prisons; it is estimated that the state’s prison system is only capable of safely holding half of the 170,000 prisoners it currently houses. Some 16,000 inmates in California don’t even have cells to share and instead are tightly packed into leftover spaces such as gyms and hallways, which simply crowds facilities even further and hinders recreational opportunities in common areas.

Though he has vowed to appeal the federal ruling, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a $1.2 billion cut to the state’s $10 billion prison budget in an effort to address the state’s prison and financial troubles. Initially, the cut came with a mandate to release 27,000 prisoners, but this provision was eliminated from the governor’s proposal after intense GOP opposition.

Click here to listen to an NPR podcast about the Chino riot and problems in California’s prisons. Click here to read an editorial by Neal Peirce at the Seattle Times about prison overcrowding.

Click here for a breakdown of California’s prison population.

Email or call Governor Schwarzenegger to demand better conditions in California’s prisons.

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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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