Prison Health

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Out of Prison — and Hungry

Aus Jarrar was released from an eleven-year prison sentence with $200. He's got an internship as a drug and alcohol counselor, but until he starts to earn a wage he's relying on charity food-- he doesn't qualify for food stamps.

Aous Jarrar was released from prison after an 11-year sentence with $200. He has an internship as a drug and alcohol counselor, but because he doesn’t qualify for food stamps, he is relying on charity food. (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

Editor’s note: For nearly two decades, people with drug-related felonies were banned for life from getting food stamps, but that’s all changing now. Starting April 15, thousands of former inmates will be eligible for food stamps and other public benefits.

Until then, how do you feed yourself when you get out of prison with no money and little help? As part of our health series Vital Signs, we hear from Aous Jarrar. He was recently released from prison after serving an 11-year sentence for bank robbery. Now, without food stamps, he’s one charity meal away from hunger. We caught up with him as he rushed around downtown Oakland looking for food.

By Aous Jarrar

Walking by that restaurant back there, I smelled some barbecue. Somebody’s really cooking. You know the funny thing? Since I got out, I’ve been really full maybe three times.

It was a shock to me the morning I woke up out here that my breakfast wasn’t ready. I was in prison for a total of 11 years. I took breakfast for granted.

I’m Palestinian. I’m not a citizen so I don’t qualify for food stamps.

The prison system, they give us $200 to leave with. I had no clothes, and I have no food. So I had to make the choice: do I want look professional, so I can get a job? Or do I want to eat? Continue reading

Cooking Class Shows Ex-Cons How to Shop and Cook on a Budget

Staff from Transitions Housing Clinic, a health center for former inmates, gathered in San Francisco to learn to cook on a budget with Chef Hollie Greene. (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

Staff from the Transitions Clinic, a nationwide network of health clinics for former inmates, gathered in San Francisco to learn to cook on a budget. (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

The chef has thrown down the challenge. There are five teams, ten people each, that must make their own version of veggie chili. Juanita Alvarado stirs the secret ingredient into the pot for Team 1. They call themselves the SuperHots.

“Let’s let that caramelize,” she says, tapping the wooden spoon on the edge of the saucepan.

This simmering pot of fresh black beans, zucchini, and carrots is a far cry from what Alvarado ate when she was in prison. Late nights in the bunks, inmates would pool their goods from the commissary to make a prison concoction called The Spread.

“It’s a ramen noodle. It consists of pickle juice, tuna, Velveeta cheese. Sausages, hot chips, some hot sauce, pork rinds, mayonnaise,” she says.

Then they mixed it all together and cooked it – sort of. Continue reading

California Prisons Adopt Plan to Restrict Segregation 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

In response to a court order, California prison officials proposed a new approach Friday to how they treat mentally ill inmates who break rules or commit new crimes. The judge who ordered the change immediately approved the plan.

Right now, if a mentally ill inmate refuses to follow orders or attacks another inmate or guards, the prison sends him to a segregation unit. In segregation, prisoners spend more time confined to their cells and must submit to routine strip searches for weapons and drugs. Advocates for inmates have long insisted the conditions only worsen mental illness. Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton unequivocally backed them up.

In an April ruling, the judge wrote, “placement of seriously mentally ill inmates in California’s segregation housing unit can and does cause serious psychological harm” by worsening symptoms, inducing psychosis and increasing suicidal urges. Continue reading

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