Prison Health

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High-Priced Drug Sovaldi Coming to California Prisoners with Hepatitis C

Chino State Prison. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Chino State Prison. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

By George Lauer, California Healthline

It’s the drug that can cure most people with hepatitis C in 12 weeks — but comes at a high cost: $1,000 a pill. Now, California Correctional Health Care Services, which oversees clinical care and drug prescriptions for 125,000 inmates at 34 prisons across the state, began using Sovaldi last month.

Made by Gilead Sciences of Foster City, Sovaldi has become part of the “community standard” for medical professionals treating patients with hepatitis C, according to prison officials. A full course of treatment runs about $84,000.

Hepatitis C, a viral infection that can lead to liver failure, cancer or other health problems, is often associated with intravenous drug use. Many of the estimated 3.2 million Americans living with hepatitis C in the U.S. are poor, imprisoned, elderly or all of the above, giving public systems a disproportionate share of hepatitis C patients. Continue reading

California Prisons Begin ‘Use-of-Force’ Reforms for Mentally Ill Inmates

A psychiatric segregation cell at Sacramento Prison. (Julie Small/KQED)

A psychiatric segregation cell at Sacramento Prison. (Julie Small/KQED)

By Julie Small

The number of inmates with mild to severe mental illness has grown to 37,000 in California, about a quarter of the prison population.

A series of lawsuits brought by inmates against the state over the last two decades has exposed a correctional system poorly equipped to handle their extraordinary needs.

Now California is trying to comply with a federal court order to change when and how correctional officers use pepper spray to force uncooperative inmates to leave their cells or follow orders.

Pepper spray may have contributed to three inmate deaths and an unknown number of injuries — unknown because the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations doesn’t consider the effects of pepper spray an injury. Continue reading

California Prisons to Restrict Pepper Spray, Segregation of Mentally Ill Inmates

 Bunk of an empty segregation cell at California State Prison-Sacramento. (Julie Small/KQED)

Bunk of an empty segregation cell at California State Prison-Sacramento. (Julie Small/KQED)

By Julie Small

California prison officials proposed major policy changes Friday to curtail when and how correctional staff use pepper spray on mentally ill inmates or segregate them from the general prison population.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) planned to vest mental health clinicians with greater say in whether correctional staff may use force or segregate inmate patients. The agency also set strict time limits on the segregation of mentally ill inmates who had committed no serious violations or crimes in prison.

CDCR proposed these changes to comply with a court order issued by U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton. Judge Karlton ordered the changes to California’s policies in April, after a lengthy evidentiary hearing. Continue reading

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