June 27, 2006

Column 42

For decades, one of the main issues of concern in California prisons has been the horrible quality of the health care for prisoners. Recently there was a report from an independent panel that studied the state of health care in the prisons here in California. It was so bad that the Federal Government had to come in and take over the prison health system. Things had become so bad in the CA Prison System that there was an average of one prisoner dying per week, because of inadequate health care. My understanding is the Feds took over the California Prison Health Care in March 2006. Evidently their job is to try and straighten out the mess the health care system is in. Over the years I have seen people die for medical reasons. I don't know if it is because of the quality (or lack of it) of the health care or if these people would have died no matter where they were receiving their health care.

About 10 years ago I got a letter from a woman who told me about how she was trying to sue the California Department of Corrections because they didn't provide the health care for her brother, who died while serving a sentence in one of the prisons. I meant to write back to this woman, but her letter disappeared from my cell during a routine search of my cell. I think it got mixed up in a pile of papers that were thrown away.

A man I know, here on Death Row, whose name is Jeff Hawkins has been giving 1 year to live by the medical people. This was about 4 months ago that he was giving this prediction. I think his case sort of typifies the problems with the medical services in prison. He had been trying to get medical treatment for 4-5 years, for a liver disease, and all the medical people here at San Quentin would do is to give him the run around. Hawkins had to finally file a formal complaint and take this complaint through the different levels of the system before he could finally complain to the Director of the California Prisons. According to Hawkins, at every level he was giving the run around and double talk and was even lied to by the people in the system. If he had gotten the treatment he needed for this disease he could have stopped or slowed the deterioration of his liver. Due to the lack of care over these years, his liver progressed to the point where it is terminal and he has months to live. He still hasn't gotten treatment for his liver and is still getting the run around.

I have heard of this sort of thing happening to others, but this is the 1st time I have seen it firsthand. Maybe with the medical system being taken over by the Feds, it might change things. I am sceptical, but we will see hoe it goes. I think one of the biggest concerns of people in prison (not just death row) is that they will become seriously ill while in prison and have to rely on the prison medical services. A system that believes in putting off treatment and avoiding action and making excuses, rather than providing treatment. Hopefully things will improve.

As bad as the medical care in the California prisons is . . I think the mental health treatment should be of even bigger concern. I think things are at a crisis point as far as this is concerned. Since President Reagan cut all the public mental health treatments in the USA in the 1980's, the prisons have become the place where society had deposited the mentally ill. I have no way to guess what the percentage of prison inmates is that really belong in a mental treatment program. I wouldn't be surprised if it was as high as 50% of prisoners who needed treatment. So with the focus on medical treatment, I hope mental illness treatments do not get pushed to the side and neglected.

That is all I have to say for this one. I just wanted to make a few comments. Thanks and all the best to you all.


P.S. If you would like to write to Jeff Hawkins and ask him if you could be of help to him in some way, here is his name and address:
Jeff Hawkins 
P.O Box E-46000 5E76
San Quentin Prison
San Quentin, California 94974