By Robert J. Hansen
Sacramento, CA – A bill that would mandate the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to notify designated family members within 24 hours of an incarcerated person being hospitalized and provide in-person visits and video calls when an incarcerated person is hospitalized, passed the Senate Public Safety Committee last week.
SB 1139, authored by California State Senator Sydney Kamlager, will implement a format of guided steps and tools to afford incarcerated Californians and their families a humane health care process throughout the (CDCR).
The bill is sponsored by Prison from the Inside Out (“FTIO) whose mission is to lower recidivism rates via innovative self-help programs, reentry resources, and spiritual guidance.
FTIO founder, Porche Taylor, said its work directly contributes to a safer and more humane California.
“It was such a blessing to sit and hear my work read in the State Capitol,” Taylor said. “Beside me sat a team that I am so proud to have with me on this journey. One step down, many to go, but we are ready.”
Currently, a designated person can sign a CDCR medical release form to receive an incarcerated person’s medical information.
Unfortunately, many families report not being made aware of this process until it is too late, leaving people blind to their loved ones’ health care status.
As a result, incarcerated people pass away alone with family members not being notified for days.
Lorene Graza experienced this when her husband, Rudy Graza, who, after nearly 41 years in prison, died in August 2021
Rudy told Lorene that she would be able to come to sit with him before he passed but she never was given the chance.
“They never called me, never told me he was going to die. The last person I talked to told me he was doing very well but was not sure where he was going,” Lorene said. “I never got to say goodbye.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, their very nature of confinement led to increased contamination. Hundreds of incarcerated people died and many of them died alone, without family members present or notified to be a comfort to them in their time of need.
Other supporters of SB 1139 include All of Us or None, The Dee Hill Foundation, Jesse’s Place, Just Advocate, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Pay It Forward Organization, and Pride in Truth.
Angel Rice with Empowering Women said humane healthcare in California prisons is inadequate.
“We need to make sure that no one dies alone and no one deserves to suffer alone,” Rice said.
She says the application process to become a visitor at CDCR prisons is extensive and if someone makes a slight mistake they are not allowed to visit their loved ones in prison
“This bill removes the regulatory mandates for approved visitors and will allow inmates to have up to four family members accompany them in the final days before they die,” Rice said.
SB 1139 also would require the department to provide persons outside of a department facility with the means to initiate a phone call with an incarcerated person when the person has been admitted to the hospital for a serious medical condition and to inform the department when a family member or designated person has become critically ill or dies while the incarcerated has been hospitalized.
The bill would require the department to assist an incarcerated person in completing an approved visitor list, the medical release of information form, medical power of attorney form, and next of kin form, and to allow the incarcerated person to update those forms within 24 hours of being hospitalized, as provided. The bill would require the department, within 24 hours of an incarcerated person being hospitalized, as specified, to inform persons covered by the medical release of information
“Had the components of SB 1139 been law, I would have been able to call and receive updates about my husband and be with him in his last days of life,” Garza said.