Prison Health

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CDC: California Inmates Should Be Tested for Valley Fever Immunity

Aerial view of Avenal State Prison, near Coalinga in the Central Valley, where inmates have been hit hard by Valley Fever. (Buzzbo/Flickr)

Aerial view of Avenal State Prison near Coalinga, one of two Central Valley prisons where inmates are at high risk from Valley fever. (Buzzbo/Flickr)

By April Laissle

Federal health officials say the state must take steps to reduce the outbreaks of Valley fever at its prisons. Their recommendations come after 30 inmates in California died from the illness since 2008.

The fungal infection is caused by spores in the soil and can cause fever, chest pain and swelling. Two Central Valley prisons, Avenal and Pleasant Valley, have had especially high rates of the disease. Last year, California officials agreed to transfer high-risk inmates from the two prisons.

Now, experts from the Centers for Disease Control suggest new inmates should be tested for immunity. They say susceptible inmates should not sent to the two Central Valley prisons. Continue reading

Admissions Resume at Stockton Prison Health Facility

Aerial view of the California Health Care Facility in Stockton. (Photo: California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation)

Aerial view of the California Health Care Facility in Stockton. (Photo: California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation)

By Julie Small

The federal receiver who manages medical care in California prisons reopened admissions Monday at a Stockton facility for the state’s sickest inmates. The receiver’s decision ends a temporary court-ordered suspension at Stockton’s California Health Care Facility.

“We are going to slowly begin admitting medical patients.”

In early 2014 the federal overseer of medical care in California prisons suspended all transfers to the $800 million prison medical complex because of unsanitary conditions. Receiver Clark Kelso found doctors and nurses at the facility lacked essential supplies, such as bandages and catheters for incontinent inmates. He also found that staff was too small to provide around-the-clock care to the hundreds of inmates at the prison with complex medical conditions.

Spokeswoman Joyce Hayhoe said Monday that after a series of improvements, the Stockton prison may accept inmates again. Continue reading

Is It Time to Reform California’s Sex Offender Registry?

(Scott Pacaldo/Flickr)

California is one of just four states that requires sex offenders to register for the rest of their lives. (Scott Pacaldo/Flickr)

By Tara Siler

Back in 1947 California became the first state to require sex offenders to register with law enforcement after being released from prison. Now there are just under 100,000 sex offenders on the state’s lifetime registry — most of whom can be found on the state’s public website. But here’s what a lot of people don’t know: California is one of just four states requiring all sex offenders to register for the rest of their lives.

‘The reality is that for most of them the offense happened years ago.’
The state board that oversees the registry believes it’s time to overhaul the registry to make it smaller and easier to spot those at high risk of reoffending.

“K” — as he wants to be identified — is a case in point. He was added to the registry last year when he was released from prison. In 2009, he was convicted of multiple felony charges, including lewd and lascivious conduct.

While K claims the touching was consensual, the woman said it wasn’t. In any case, the woman was developmentally disabled and K was her caregiver. Continue reading

In Alameda County, Leaving Jail Doesn’t Have to Mean Losing Health Care

Rodrigo Salido, recently released from Santa Rita jail in Dublin, Calif., enrolls in Medi-Cal at Healthy Oakland clinic. (Courtesy: PBS NewsHour)

Rodrigo Salido, recently released from Santa Rita jail in Dublin, Calif., enrolls in Medi-Cal at Healthy Oakland clinic. (Courtesy: PBS NewsHour)

By Sarah Varney, Kaiser Health News and PBS NewsHour

It’s been two months since Rodrigo Salido left the maximum security wing at Santa Rita jail, about 40 miles east of San Francisco in Alameda County. It’s also been two months since Salido had medication for his bipolar disorder.

In Alameda County officials estimate 18,000 offenders in its two jails will now qualify for Medi-Cal.
A drug, Risperdal, prescribed by a jailhouse psychiatrist, had quelled Salido’s angry moods. “It helped me be more relaxed,” he said. “Not as much on the edge and feeling like everybody is out to get me.”

Now Salido, who served two years for burglary, assault and gang involvement, has no health insurance and until recently had few options for refilling his medication.

Many inmates leave county jails and state prisons with mental health problems and chronic physical ailments — and no health coverage. Because they typically are not custodial parents, ex-offenders have long been ineligible for a public health insurance program aimed at kids, mothers and the disabled. Continue reading

Obamacare in Jail: How San Francisco Policy Helps Inmates

A new law permits San Francisco Sheriff Department staff to enroll people into health plans. (Thomas Hawk/Flickr)

A new law permits San Francisco Sheriff Department staff to enroll people into health plans. (Thomas Hawk/Flickr)

The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department is implementing a new city law allowing its staff to enroll inmates into health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi believes that making sure people have health coverage when they’re released will help prevent them from committing another crime and coming back.

“I believe that will go a long way to helping us improve public safety by using a public health strategy,” he said.

Health insurance sign-ups available to all inmates at the San Francisco county jail.

He estimates this will help save taxpayers millions of dollars.

One inmate – Sophia – recently requested help signing up for health insurance. Sophia, who asked that her last name not be used, was caught driving a stolen car in January and sentenced to three months in the county jail. She says that was because she stopped getting treatment for her substance abuse and mental health problems when her health insurance expired. Continue reading

Working with the Dying in California Prisons

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Reverend Lorie Adoff has trained over 130 inmate-volunteers to sit with and support dying prisoners at California Men’s Colony, a minimum- and medium-security prison in San Luis Obispo. After training inmates for eleven years, Adoff retired in 2013. (Ryder Diaz/KQED)

Editor’s Note: Many people hope to die surrounded by friends and family. But for prison inmates death can be unusually isolating. As part of our ongoing health series called Vital Signs, we hear from retired hospice chaplain Lorie Adoff. More than a decade ago, she helped launch a project called Supportive Care Services at the California Men’s Colony — a prison in San Luis Obispo. The program trained inmates serving life sentences to sit with other men dying behind bars.

By Lorie Adoff

First of all imagine, it’s very, very stark. There is nothing pretty about a hospital in prison. Nothing.

But I have discovered, working with the dying in prison, there is transformation. 

They have the opportunity to have family come and visit them on a limited basis. A lot of times because they’ve been there so long though, they don’t have anybody who it matters whether or not they die in prison. They’ve been in prison for 30 years or 40 years and who cares? So, dying alone is a very, very real situation in prison.

Before Supportive Care Services, there really wasn’t anything in place to be with the dying inmates. Patients who were dying in the hospital would be put in a room. A nurse would check on him periodically, until he died. Continue reading

Giving Birth in Prison: One Woman’s Story

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Natasha Smith, 37, plays with her children at her grandfather’s home in Huntington Beach. A unique program allowed Smith to live with her two youngest children while she served a four-year prison sentence. (Susan Valot/KQED)

Editor’s Note: In the past three years, more than 250 California inmates gave birth. Natasha Smith had her youngest daughter, Lydia, while at Valley State Prison in Chowchilla. The mother of four was serving time for drug possession and grand theft. This month, as part of our ongoing health series, Vital Signs, we’re bringing you personal stories of health care behind bars. Smith talks about reuniting with her baby — seven years ago — in a program that lets mothers serve their time outside of prison. There were once several such programs in the state. Now, only one Southern California facility remains. Reporter: Susan Valot

By Natasha Smith

I had a normal delivery, a vaginal delivery, so I got 48 hours. And then at the end of the 48 hours, I had to either arrange for someone to come pick up my child or she would go into the [foster care] system. So, I actually had Lydia’s father’s mother come and pick up the baby. And I didn’t really know her. It was very emotional handing over your baby to somebody you never even met.

You just kind of shut yourself down because it’s too hard to deal with: “Where’s my baby?” You just had a baby and your breasts are leaking. I mean, you’re lactating and everything else but there’s no baby. Continue reading

Prison Hunger Strike Ends, Inmates’ Health Still at Risk

Pelican Bay prison Secure Housing Unit. (Michael Montgomery/KQED)

Inside Pelican Bay State Prison’s security housing unit. (Michael Montgomery/KQED)

After 59 days, California inmates have ended their hunger strike. The prisoners had been protesting what they called aggressive use of solitary confinement, which kept some prisoners in isolation for decades.

Some 30,000 inmates began the strike on July 8, but that number dropped over time. This week there were about 100 remaining, including 40 who have been on continuous hunger strike during the two-month period. Those on hunger strike were getting by on Gatorade, totaling 600-625 calories a day, and vitamins.

In addition, advocates say the men had put on extra pounds in anticipation of the hunger strike. Some may have weighed 225 to 250 pounds at the start of the strike; others likely weighed less.

While it does not appear that any of the inmates have suffered severe health problems that can result from starvation, the process of commencing eating again must be done slowly and carefully. Anyone who has refused food over a long period of time is at risk of “refeeding syndrome,” which can cause “potentially fatal shifts” in fluids and electrolytes possibly leading to cardiac arrest and even death. Continue reading

Prison Hunger Strikers Getting by on Gatorade, Vitamins

Pelican Bay State Prison, Crescent City, CA. (Michael Montgomery/KQED)

Pelican Bay State Prison, Crescent City, CA. (Michael Montgomery/KQED)

By Michael Montgomery and Lisa Aliferis

With an inmate hunger strike over conditions at California’s highest security lockups now at day 54, it seems remarkable that none of the 41 prisoners refusing food since July 8 has experienced serious or life-threatening medical problems.

Officials monitoring the protest report that, as of Wednesday, the men had body mass indexes in the 20s, well above a danger zone established by the court-appointed receiver overseeing prison medical care. Only two of the prisoners had lost more than 15 percent of their body weight, another critical measure.

While the inmates are clearly suffering as a result of the extended fast, and report bouts of extreme nausea and dizziness, there are “no imminent health emergencies and no prisoners in critical condition,” said Joyce Hayhoe, a spokesperson for receiver Clark Kelso.

So what’s keeping the hunger strikers from more severe starvation? The answer, it turns out, could be mass quantities of Gatorade, the ubiquitous sports drink.

Under state rules, inmates are considered on hunger strike if they refuse all state meals for more than three days and have no other food items in their cells, such as snacks from the prison commissary. Continue reading