Saturday, July 13, 2024

California needs to reform prison care

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California still is struggling to take care of its prisoners. On Nov. 6, Inspector General Amarik K. Singh issued a stinging report on prison medical care. For the 34 adult prisons operated by the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from March 2019 through September 2023, 23 were found “adequate” on health care, but “inadequate” grades were given to 11, or one-third.

The report conceded the period observed included the COVID-19 pandemic, during which health care was challenged throughout our society. It found some services were delayed and some care denied.

Areas needing special care: medication management was inadequate in 33 prisons; “health care environment” in 30; diagnostic services in 23; and administrative operations in 21. On the positive side, health information management was proficient or adequate in 31; access to care in 28; and provider performance and specialized medical housing in nine.

The report made 11 recommendations, including “developing and implementing measures to ensure that staff timely make available and administer medications to patients.”

All this is occurring while the prison health system remains under a federal receivership set up in 2006 by the courts in response to systemic problems in California’s prison system.

A second report, from Nov. 8 by the Legislative Analyst’s Office, noted the entire prison system’s health care was put under federal control in 2006, but improvements have allowed 21 to be “delegated” back to the state. The LAO warns, however, that delegation of the remaining prisons may be a lengthy process and that independent oversight may still be necessary.

No note was taken in either report of the massive raise and benefits Gov. Gavin Newsom gave the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the prison guards’ union, in August.

The state estimated it at more than $1 billion in new benefits for 26,000 guards over two years. That’s an average of $38,461 per guard. That’s money that would have bought a lot of improved medical care for prisoners.

Prison health care reform should be the top priority of the governor and Legislature when they return in January.

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