CREDIT: AP Images
The California Health Care Facility in Stockton was ordered to stop admitting inmates due to unsanitary conditions and medical malpractice — leading to one man’s death and an outbreak of scabies. The facility, specifically designed as a premier institution for “patient-inmates,” allowed prisoners to languish in their feces for extended periods of time, provided broken wheelchairs, and ignored patient requests for medical assistance.
Inspectors, who were court-appointed to investigate the facility early last year, identified several other examples of patient mistreatment. “A shortage of towels forced prisoners to dry off with dirty socks, a shortage of soap halted showers for some inmates, and incontinent men were put into diapers and received catheters that did not fit, causing them to soil their clothes and beds,” for instance. Nurses did not respond when called, as was the case when a bleeding man’s request for help went ignored. Moreover, prisoners were often expected to assist one another, as was the case when “one man in a wheelchair with emphysema” was told to transport another inmate confined to a wheelchair.
According to medical-receiver Clark Keslo, the unhealthy environment is largely attributed to a combination of limited staff members and overcrowding — a problem that persists in prisons throughout the state. The Stockton facility currently houses 1,299 inmates, and a second unopened, building contains 1,133 beds for future use. Staff shortages, however, results in the inability to monitor every inmate and administer proper care. Ironically, the California Health Care Facility was constructed, in part, to alleviate overcrowding in other prisons statewide.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California violated the Eighth Amendment by “[depriving] prisoners of basic sustenance, including adequate medical care…,” in 2011. Problems associated with overcrowding constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Last year, federal judges ordered the state to decrease its overcrowded prison population to 137.5 percent, or 10,000 people, by year’s end — a goal that was not achieved. At the time of the order, prison capacity exceeded 150 percent. Nevertheless, Governor Jerry Brown (D) has continually vocalized dissent and failed to comply. Despite evidence contradicting his claim, Brown insists that “the prison emergency is over,” and has proceeded to refuse calls from federal judges.
In addition to inhumane conditions, the Golden State’s prison system is an economic burden to the state. Each inmate costs California $45,000 per year, and in 2012, the state spent six times more on prisons than it did on college students.