Investigative Piece Highlights Inadequacies in Prison Health Care System

prison-reformOne of the fallacies in the criminal justice system is that the system provides adequate health care for the prisoners.  This issue came up, interestingly enough, last week when we reported on Leighton Dupree receiving a 27-year prison sentence for a bank robbery in which he carried no weapons and ended up stealing three hundred eighty-seven dollars.

A commenter remarked that at least the individual would be getting good health care.  Ironically, the same week Dan Noyes, chief Investigative Reporter for San Francisco’s KGO-TV, came out with a report about problems that persist in the prison health care system.

The issue of problems with the California system is not new.  Back in 2001, inmates filed suit against the California Department of Corrections, alleging inadequate medical care that violated the Eighth Amendment constituting cruel and unusual punishment, as well as a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation was found to be in violation of the Eighth Amendment and eventually, after the failure to correct the system, CDCR was held in civil contempt and the medical health care system was placed into receivership.

In August of 2009, a three-judge panel ordered the state to submit a plan within 45 days detailing “a population reduction plan that will in no more than two years reduce the population of the CDCR’s adult institutions to 137.5% of their combined design capacity.”

The state would submit the plan in September 2009, but the court rejected it.  It has now been appealed to the Supreme Court where it was argued last year.

Remedies included the reduction of the prison population to relieve overcrowding and allow the proper provision of medical care.

Last week, Dan Noyes and his “I-Team” reported on 48-year-old Teddie Rowe, whom doctors have given just weeks, perhaps even days, to live.

According to their report, his heart is operating at just 14 percent.

According to Mr. Noyes, “Prison activists point to Rowe as a prime example of the lack of health care behind bars.”

“Access to care, access to medications in the prison system is very poor,” Prison Law Office spokesperson Don Specter said.

“There are too many people in too small a space with not enough staff to provide adequate medical care to everyone, and as a result, many prisoners fall through the cracks,” Specter said.

Mr. Noyes continues, ” That appears to be what happened to Rowe. He served the bulk of a ten-year sentence at Mule Creek State Prison in Amador County.  Designed to handle 1,700 inmates, it is packed with 3,769.”

Mr. Rowe was able to remain in decent shape prior to going to prison.  He kept his diabetes in check with diet and exercise.  But reports Mr. Noyes, “But he could not get a special diet for diabetes in prison and he says it was difficult to get his medication.”

The report continues, “Failure to treat chronic diseases  such as diabetes is a central problem cited by a recent inspector general’s audit of 17 California prisons. It found “nearly all prisons were ineffective at ensuring that inmates receive their medications” and “the second recurring problem…was poor access to medical providers and services.””

The kicker for Mr. Rowe is that he went to prison for child molestation.  However, his accusers came to prison last year, after he had served his ten-year sentence, to recant the story.

According to Mr. Rowe, “prosecutors told him he faced 45 years to life in prison if he went to trial, so agreeing to a ten-year sentence seemed like the only choice.”

“There was no evidence, there was no DNA, there was nothing to prove he should have gone to prison,” prison rights activist Cayenne Bird said.

“Bird says with such poor health care, any prison sentence can become a death sentence,” Mr. Noyes reports.

“Teddy didn’t have a death sentence, but it certainly turned into one for him,” she said.

Click on the video below to watch the full report:

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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