Please Sign these letters for healthcare for people in prison in California!

Being in physical distress locked in a cell turns into a truly terrifying experience when you can hear the cops banter with each other about you being a “crybaby”…and they’ll get to it when they have finished cutting it up with each other. It’s especially terrifying when you are experiencing symptoms you don’t understand & you have witnessed others calling for help only to learn that person didn’t survive.
-Sonja Marcus, formerly incarcerated woman, survived 18 years in prison


On July 30, 2014 a woman committed suicide in the Solitary Housing Unit (SHU) of the California Institution for Women (CIW), in Corona. According to information gathered by the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), there have been seven preventable deaths at CIW so far in 2014 and three attempted suicides since July alone. None of these deaths have been made public by CIW or CDCR although they signify a state of crisis in the prison.

Prison officials have failed to inform bereaved family members of these deaths in a timely and respectful manner. Margie Kobashigawa, the mother of 30-year-old Alicia Thompson, who died of an alleged suicide on February 24, 2014 in the SHU, was ignored by prison staff. 

“Nobody from the prison would call me back, nobody would talk to me. I was planning to pick up my daughter’s body and suddenly CIW was trying to cremate her again, and quickly. To me it’s like they’re trying to hide everything,” said Margie. As she prepared her daughter for burial, she found no signs of hanging trauma to her body and has reason to believe her daughter died from some other type of violent force.

On March 13, 2014 Shadae Schmidt, a 32-year-old African American woman, died in the CIW SHU. Shadae had a stroke in February 2014 and was prematurely returned to the SHU. She was given medication that made her sick but her requests for a change in prescription fell on deaf ears; and then she died.

CCWP received information regarding these two deaths from friends and family members, but other deaths, suicides and attempted suicides remain shrouded in mystery. 

The majority of people in the SHU have some type of mental health problem, which is exacerbated by solitary confinement. CCWP continues to hear reports that there is no medical staff to monitor people’s vital signs and mental states when physical and mental health crises occur. People scream for help and get no response at all. 

Since the closure of Valley State Women’s Prison in January 2013, overcrowding at CIW has skyrocketed. Medical care has significantly deteriorated and there has been a dramatic increase in the population of the SHU and other disciplinary segregation units. 

Overcrowding has aggravated mental health issues causing an increase in the number of mentally disabled people in the SHU even though this is the worst place to put them.

In August 2014, in response to a court order, the CDCR released revised policies to reduce the number of people with mental health diagnoses in isolation. Policy changes are only useful if they are implemented. It is crucial for the CDCR to transfer all people with mental health issues out of the CIW SHU as soon as possible in accordance with the court order. 

Despite decades of lawsuits to remedy prison health care and court orders to reduce prison overcrowding, the inhuman conditions inside CA women’s prisons continue and have led to these tragic, violent and untimely deaths. In order to reverse the crisis at CIW, CCWP calls for the following immediate actions:
  • Immediate transfer of all prisoners with mental health issues from the SHU and implementation of care programs.
  • Increased healthcare staffing and care for people in the SHU.
  • An independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding all deaths at CIW in 2014.
  • Reduction of overcrowding through the implementation of existing release programs rather than transfers to other equally problematic prisons and jails.
PLEASE CALL, EMAIL, WRITE or FAX these people with the demands above:
Sara Malone, Chief Ombudsman
Office of the Ombudsman
1515 S. Street, Room 124 S.
Sacramento, CA 95811
Tel: (916) 327-8467  Fax: (916) 324-8263
sara.malone@cdcr.ca.gov
Kimberly Hughes, Warden CIW
Tel: (909) 597-1771
Kimberly.hughes@cdcr.ca.gov
Senator Hannah Beth-Jackson
District 19, Senate Budget Committee
Vice-Chair of Women’s Caucus
(916) 651-4019
senator.jackson@sen.ca.gov
Assemblymember Nancy Skinner
District 15, Women’s Caucus
(916) 319-2015
Assemblymember.Skinner@outreach.assembly.ca.gov
Assemblymember Tom Ammiano
District 17
(916) 319-2017
Assemblymember.Ammiano@outreach.assembly.ca.gov
Senator Mark Leno
Senator.leno@senator.ca.gov
Senator Loni Hancock
Senator.hancock@senate.ca.gov
Senator Holly Mitchell
District 26, Women’s Caucus
Public Safety Committee (916) 651-4015
Senator Jim Beall
District 15, Senate Budget Committee
senator.beall@senator.ca.gov
(916) 651-4026
Jay Virbel, Associate Director of Female Offender Programs & Services
jay.virbel@cdcr.ca.gov
(916) 322-1627
PO Box 942883
Sacramento, CA 95811
Jeffrey Beard, CDCR Secretary
Jeff.Beard@cdcr.ca.gov
(916) 323-6001
PO Box 942883

Sacramento, CA 95811

Also from CURB
Please sign here to sign CURB’s letter for decent healthcare at CSP-Corcoran!

Corcoran SHU prisoners start hunger strike for decent healthcare; support needed now

Sept. 28th, 2014
From: SFBayview

On Friday, Sept. 26, 2014, three men locked inside unit 4B-1L of the Secure Housing Unit (SHU) of California State Prison-Corcoran started a hunger strike:
Heshima Denham (J-38283), followed on Sept. 27 by Michael Zaharibu Dorrough (D-83611), and Kambui Robinson (C-82830) will join them the following day for a few days or as long as he can considering his poor health.

Why?
The medical care at Corcoran SHU is so bad that life-threatening situations have occurred on too many occasions to the people in the SHU and possibly also elsewhere at CSP-Corcoran that they have had to resort to a hunger strike, the ultimate nonviolent protest, in order to make this point known to the warden, the medical receiver appointed by the court to oversee California’s notoriously bad prison healthcare, and the administration of the California Department of Corrections (CDCr).

Several factors made the three decide to protest the lack of healthcare now: Kambui has diabetes that is very badly regulated with a HBA1C of 9.3 – far too high for diabetics, especially with those already suffering loss of eyesight and neuropathy – and Zaharibu has dangerous, untreated, extremely high cholesterol, making him very vulnerable to stroke, and he has untreated gall stones and a CPAP machine [for sleep apnea, can cause strokes] without an extension cord to work effectively.

Custody staff interfering with medical staff is causing dangerous situations.

What can you do to help?

Ideally we want Michael (Zaharibu) Dorrough and Kambui Robinson moved to Vacaville or New Folsom medical facilities. Kambui’s situation is most critical:

He needs more control over his insulin-dependent diabetes – better regulation, prevention of more complications, and a special diet for diabetics, with sufficient carbohydrates, low fat, whole grains, access to glucose and daily exercise outside his cell. He also needs a diagnostic scan to determine nerve damage in his brain.

For Michael Dorrough (D-83611): normal access to the CPAP machine, treatment for high cholesterol levels and treatment for gallstones.

[Note: Both Michael Dorrough and Kambui Robinson also need to be moved away from the Central Valley due to Valley Fever!]

Finally, for Heshima Denham (J-38283), we need an MRI-scan to make a diagnosis of the pain in his right side and treatment for whatever is causing it. Heshima was recently also diagnosed with PTSD.
Please keep in mind these are medical issues that should be treated with discretion.

Although I concentrate on these three people who are on a hunger strike, they have expressed that they are striking for all people with a disease or injury needing better care, chronic or not, at CSP-Corcoran.

Although I concentrate on these three people who are on a hunger strike, they have expressed that they are striking for all people with a disease or injury needing better care, chronic or not, at CSP-Corcoran.

Call or write to the Corcoran warden, or leave a message with his secretary. Below is a proposed script:

Call or email Warden Dave Davey, at 559 992-8800 or dave.davey@cdcr.ca.gov, or write to him at P.O. Box 8800, Corcoran, CA 93212-8309.

[Please cc emails to: Dr Clarence Cryer, clarence.cryer@cdcr.ca.gov , Chief Executive Officer in charge of health care at CSP-Corcoran.]

Call or send a copy of your letter or email to Diana Toche, Undersecretary for Health Care Services and Undersecretary for Administration and Offender Services, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Correctional Health Care Services, P.O. Box 942883, Sacramento, CA 94283-0001, 916-691-0209, Diana.toche@cdcr.ca.gov.

Also send a copy to the Medical Receiver, California Correctional Health Care Services, Controlled Correspondence Unit, P.O. Box 588500, Elk Grove, CA 95758, CPHCSCCUWeb@cdcr.ca.gov.

Finally, contact the Ombudsman, at Cherita.Wofford@cdcr.ca.gov.

Suggested script for your phone call, email or letter:

I am contacting you concerning the lack of specialized healthcare for people inside the CSP-Corcoran SHU, especially those with chronic diseases. I would like to make you aware of the fact that there is a hunger strike going on inside to demand that people with diabetes or sleep apnea and in need of special diets and other mental and physical healthcare get treated as they would when not incarcerated. Insulin-dependent diabetics with complications and patients with CPAP machines, mental illness such as PTSD and other mental challenges should not be in the SHU but in a medical facility.

The healthcare system in several California prisons is failing badly and we demand prompt action now:

Either move the diabetic patients and the CPAP-machine patients, as well as all other chronic disease patients, to a medical facility or improve the healthcare system, including the rules for, for instance, MRI scans in CSP-Corcoran.

MRI scans are only allowed when there is a physically visible wound. This is wrong!
Also, prevent custody staff from interfering with medical issues, please!

I respectfully insist you act this week to start making specific and general improvements to the healthcare in CSP-Corcoran SHU, before lives are lost.

Thank you.

Prisoner in Corcoran SHU Dies While on Hunger Strike

We are very sad and very concerned that this has happened. We wish everyone who was a friend, comrade, fellow prisoner, family member, consolation. As the person who reported the news wrote, “his life mattered.” 

For Immediate Release–July 27, 2013

Prisoner in Corcoran SHU Dies While on Hunger Strike
Fellow Prisoners Mourn, Advocates Raise Questions About His Death 

Press Contact: Isaac Ontiveros
Ph: 510 517 6612

Oakand–
Mediators working on behalf of hunger striking prisoners have received disturbing  news that Billy Michael Sell, known to his friends as Guero, died while on strike at Corcoran State Prison Security Housing Unit (SHU) [housed in 4B-3L of the Corcorcan SHU] on Monday, July 22.  His death is being ruled a suicide by prison officials.  

Fellow prisoners have reported that Sell was participating in California’s massive statewide hunger strike–now in its 20th day.  They further reported that Sell had been requesting medical attention for several days prior to his death.  They described Sell as “strong, a good person” and  openly questioned the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (CDCR) ruling his death a suicide, saying it was “completely out of character for him.”   

Advocates are outraged at Sell’s death, noting that it could have been prevented if CDCR had negotiated with strikers. 

Mediators are working to get further accurate information and accountability from the CDCR.  “This story is deeply troubling and contradicts the assurances that the hunger-striking prisoners are receiving appropriate medical care,” Says Ron Ahnen, of California Prison Focus and the mediation team representing striking prisoners. 

Mediators have made an official inquiry to the federal receiver overseeing California’s prisons.  This report comes amid growing concern for the medical care strikers are receiving, along with continued condemnation of the CDCR’s response to the strike and Gov. Brown’s total silence on the issue.

###

California suppressed consultant’s report on inmate suicides

This comes from the LA Times:

Feb. 28th, 2013
By Paige St. John, Los Angeles Times

The report warned that California’s prison suicide-watch practices encouraged inmate deaths. Gov. Brown has said the state’s prison care crisis is over.

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown has pointed to reams of documents to make the case in court and on the stump that California’s prison crisis is over, and inmates are receiving good care.

But there is at least one document the administration wanted to hide.

New court filings reveal that the state suppressed a report from its own consultant warning that California’s prison suicide-watch practices encouraged inmate deaths.

Lindsay Hayes, a national expert on suicide prevention in prisons, told corrections officials in 2011 that the state’s system of holding suicidal inmates for days in dim, dirty, airless cells with unsanitized mattresses on the floor was compounding the risk that they would take their own lives.

His report described in detail inmates being divested of their clothes and possessions and robed in a “safety smock.” Hayes concluded that such conditions encouraged prisoners to declare they were no longer suicidal just to escape the holding cells. Many of them took their own lives soon after.

The state asked Hayes to create a short version of his report that omitted his damaging findings, to give to a court monitor and lawyers for prisoners, the court documents show. Hayes complied, but when inmate attorneys obtained a complete copy, the state asked a U.S. District Court to order it destroyed. The judge refused.

The report says the state’s handling of suicidal inmates is “seemingly punitive” and “anti-therapeutic.” Hayes noted that guards, not mental health workers, dictate many of the conditions of suicide watches, such as whether to allow daily showers. Hayes alleged prison workers sometimes falsified watch logs showing how frequently those inmates were checked.
Hayes found that in 25 of the cases he reviewed, seven prisoners had killed themselves within hours or days of being released from suicide watch. He found lapses in care — lengthy delays in checking on the prisoners, failure to attempt CPR — in 68% of the cases he studied. Hayes did give the state high marks for compiling exhaustive reports after an inmate’s death.

Contract records show that corrections officials recruited Hayes, a former consultant for inmate plaintiffs, to begin in 2010 a three-year project on suicide prevention, demonstrating the state’s resolve to improve inmate mental health care.

His first report was filed in August 2011. Hayes said in a deposition that none of the follow-up reports and consultations called for in his contract occurred.

“When your report landed, it was not roundly applauded and in fact was buried,” Robert Canning, a prison official overseeing Hayes’ work, wrote in a June 2012 email to the consultant. There were 32 prison suicides in California in 2012, above the national average.

Other new filings show that the staffing shortage at one prison psychiatric hospital is so critical the psychiatric staff has declared they have been working since Jan. 23 “under protest.”

The doctors in Salinas Valley State Prison’s psychiatric program, run by the Department of State Hospitals, say they routinely juggle caseloads of up to 60 patients a day, and in some instances have been assigned wards containing as many as 120 patients a day.

Read the rest here

When prison illness becomes a death sentence

From The Guardian, on Feb. 16th 2012, this gruelling story about a private prison from CCA in Colorado, Bent County CF. May people outside wake up to the fact that people in prisons are Human Beings! Stop the privatising of prisons. Health care for everyone, INCLUDING people in prisons.

Two in every five inmates in US prisons have a chronic medical condition. Terrell Griswold, due for release last year, was one.

On 28 October 2010, Lagalia Afola received a phone call from the Bent County Correctional Facility, a private prison operated by the Correctional Corporation of America (CCA), informing her that her 26-year-old son, Terrell Griswold, was dead. Terrell was serving a three-year sentence for burglary and was due to be released in early 2011. Sadly for him, and for his grieving family, he never made it home.

The autopsy report stated that Terrell died as a result of “hypertensive cardiovascular disease” and that he had a clinical history of hypertension, for which he refused to take medication. His mother found this conclusion hard to accept and, after months of persistent enquiry, was finally
provided with at least some of her son’s medical records. Upon reviewing the records, she discovered that her son had been suffering from a blockage in his prostate that prevented him from urinating properly, causing chronic kidney damage, and which, she believes, ultimately
contributed to his abrupt demise.

This blockage in Terrell’s prostate was discovered on 3 December 2009 by Dr David Oba, an attending physician at the CCA prison. The doctor noted at the time that inmate Griswold reported having had problems passing urine for the past two months:

“He has the urge to void but sometimes is unable to void at all, other times he has a very weak stream but is able to void.”

The doctor also noted that he had discussed with the patient that “he may have a chronic sub-acute prostatitis”, which he planned to treat with a 30-day cycle of ciprofloxacin (Cipro). If there was no improvement he wrote that “he may need an eval [sic] with cystoscope with urology.”

According to the records seen (pdf), Terrell was never treated by an urologist during his entire stay at the CCA facility, and it appears he did not receive the Cipro for almost six months. On 27 January 2010, Terrell had a follow-up visit with a nurse. The nurse’s report of the visit reads as follows:

“I/M (inmate) to medical to discuss non-compliance re: HCTZ & Lisinopril. (Both drugs were to treat hypertension and high blood pressure). Per I/M he has the meds in cell but states he forgets to take meds. I/M agrees to take meds as ordered.”

She goes on to write:

“I/M also reports he never received Cipro for his urinary problem.” She reviews his charts and confirms that the Cipro was never ordered. Following this visit, there are several “Refusal of Treatment Medical Release Forms” dated 5, 13 and 24 February, 10 and 15 March, which appear to have been completed on Inmate Griswold’s behalf but which he “refused to sign”.

There appears to be no record of any visits with the medical team regarding his urinary complaint for several months. His next visit with a nurse (other than to deal with an issue regarding a swollen knee), according to the records I reviewed (pdf), was on 16 August 2010. The nurse notes again that “I/M non-compliant re: medication regimen. Last pick up 5/14/10.” This note is somewhat at odds with Terrell’s monthly medication records, which list all the medications he is taking each month. In May, June and July, the listed medications include HCTZ, Lisinopril and Cipro. If what the nurse stated on 16 August 2010 was true, that Griswold had not picked up his medications since 14 May 2010, then why did the records list all these medications (including Cipro) for the intervening months?

Whatever the explanation, it is clear from what followed is that Terrell Griswold’s urinary complaint never went away.

Close to midnight on 22 October 2010, Terrell declared a medical self-emergency (pdf) and was taken from his cell to the prison clinic. He complained of “diarrhea, dizziness, tingling in his fingers and feet, has an odd smell in nose like bleach or ammonia, feels like his throat is closing up, has acid reflux when awake and pain in epigrastic area.” He did not see a doctor because the doctor was not there; but the doctor did prescribe Bactrim, an antibiotic used to treat infections, over the phone. The nurse noted on her report that inmate Griswold was instructed to take his meds as ordered, told to follow up in 24-48 hours if no better, and was sent back to his cell. She ticked the box that said “no acute distress”.

On 24 October 2010, Griswold got to see the doctor. But according to the records, the doctor performed no tests, did not take a blood pressure reading, and simply wrote the words “UTI” (urinary tract infection) in the assessment section. During this period, Terrell’s cellmate later reported that he was making frequent attempts to urinate.

Three days later, on 27 October 2010, Griswold began vomiting in his cell and was sent to the nurse at 7.30pm. The nurse informed her patient that his antibiotic was making him sick. She ordered him to return to his cell and wrote: “He did not show any outward signs of distress that would have warranted he needed emergency treatment.”

Eleven hours later, at 6.30am, Terrell Griswold was found slumped over his toilet bowl, lifeless. His condition finally warranted emergency treatment (pdf) and the full capacity of the CCA’s medical team kicked in; CPR was administered, the patient was rushed to hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 7.24am. It was noted on his death certificate that his bladder was full of urine.

When a prisoner is deprived of their liberty by the state, they cannot provide themselves with food, water or medical care. For this reason, the state has to assume the responsibility for meeting those basic needs. A private prison that is run for profit has the same obligation to meet these basic needs; otherwise, the prisoner would be deprived of life, a violation of their most basic constitutional rights.

I asked Steve Owen, the senior director of public affairs for the CCA, if he felt that Terrell Griswold had been provided with adequate medical care.
He would not comment on Griswold’s specific case, citing privacy reasons, but he sent a fact sheet (pdf), which, he said, “summarizes both the scope and commitment to quality inmate healthcare services that our company provide and to which our government partners hold us
accountable.”

The fact sheet claims, among other things, that every CCA facility is equipped with a fully-staffed, state-of-the-art medical clinic, which is available for inmate access 24/7; that all care-related decisions are made solely on a medical basis, entirely independent of impact on CCA profits. It also states that CCA facilities utilize an innovative computer program that automates medical records, pill call and pharmacy services, which reduces paperwork and wait times.

Lagalia Afola wrote to Dr Leon Kelly, the coroner who performed her son’s autopsy, detailing her objection to his initial conclusion that her son had died of “hypertensive cardiovascular disease”. When he reviewed the new information, the coroner issued a revised autopsy (pdf), listing obstructive uropathy as one of the causes of death. Dr Kelly told me that he believed the successive urinary episodes led to kidney failure, which “certainly contributed to [Terrell’s] sudden cardiac death”.

At this point, however, the cause of death is of less concern to Mrs Afola than the fact of it. “My son was sentenced to three years for burglary,” she said. “It was not supposed to be a death sentence.”

According to bureau of justice statistics (pdf), around 4,000 inmates died in prison and jails (both public and private) in 2009; and over half of those deaths were illness-related. A comprehensive nationwide survey on the health and healthcare of US prisoners carried out by Harvard Medical School researchers (pdf) found that over 40% of US inmates were suffering from a chronic medical condition, a far higher rate than other Americans of similar age. Of these sick inmates, over 20% in state prisons, 68% in jails and 13.9% in federal prisons had not seen a doctor or nurse since incarceration.

One of the authors of the study, Dr Andrew Wilper, told me they did not include private prisons in their study because, to the best of his knowledge,there was no data available. In his view, he added, “the private prisons like it that way.”

Interested parties can write to:

Sadhbh Walshe
PO box 1466
New York, NY 10150
Or send an email to: sadhbh@ymail.com

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2012/feb/16/when-prison-illness-becomes-death-sentence