(From Press Release) – The ACLU of California, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, and Initiate Justice announced their support for AB 45, new legislation introduced today by Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay) that will eliminate copayments for people inside California prisons.
Our organizations have been tireless advocates for people inside California prisons and this work involves responding to the inadequate and often harmful health care policies and practices within state prisons. Since 1995, California prisons require a $5 medical copay from incarcerated people seeking medical, mental health or dental care. This practice undoubtedly undermines public health and individual well-being by forcing incarcerated people to choose between seeking needed health care, buying necessary hygiene items, or maintaining communication with their families.
“I made less than 8 cents an hour at my kitchen job but was still required to pay a fee to see the doctor,” says Taylor Lytle, a formerly incarcerated organizer with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. “When I was sick, I had to choose between seeing a doctor and buying hygiene I needed like soap.”
Due to labor exploitation, incarcerated people currently earn only pennies per hour, with a majority earning less than $25 a month. Meanwhile, the nature of prison conditions, such as overcrowding and living in close quarters, puts incarcerated people at an increased risk of contracting communicable diseases. For example, in 2003, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified copays as one of the factors contributing to an outbreak of MRSA among incarcerated people in Georgia, California and Texas.
“While a $5.00 copayment may seem small to those of us outside the prison system, a person in prison working for 8 cents per hour would need to work for over 60 hours just to afford one medical appointment,” says Assemblymember Mark Stone. “Limiting access to care in this way leads to unnecessary suffering, the development of more chronic conditions, and the spread of infectious diseases.”
Additionally, because of the overrepresentation of Black and brown people in California’s criminal justice system, a lack of access to needed health care exacerbates existing health disparities in these communities.
“The overwhelming majority of our state’s prison populations, nearly two-thirds, is Black or Latino. Compared to the segments of our population who are most susceptible to chronic health illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, preventing access to healthcare is even more critical than we can imagine,” said Taina Vargas-Edmond of Initiate Justice.
In September 2018, Governor Brown signed AB 2533, authored by Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay), which raised the poverty threshold for incarcerated people from $1 to $25 per month, allowing people to receive a monthly issue of necessary personal hygiene items and the means to communicate with the courts (writing materials, notary service, etc.). The bill originally sought to exempt people under the poverty line from medical copayments, but this provision was removed before the State Senate passed the bill. This year, Assemblymember Stone introduced AB 45 which eliminates the burden of medical copayments for people seeking care in California prisons.
“For incarcerated people, a copay is a major barrier to accessing needed health care,” said Phyllida Burlingame, Reproductive Justice and Gender Equity Director of the ACLU of California. “By removing this barrier, AB 45 will be a step toward creating more just health care for people behind bars.”