[Pnews] California Turns to Private Prison to Address Overcrowding and Medical Care
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jun 10 14:12:48 EDT 2014
Turns to Private Prison to Address Overcrowding and Medical Care*
Tuesday, 10 June 2014 09:49 By Victoria Law
<http://truth-out.org> | Report
To address overcrowding and inadequate medical care, California is once
again turning to private prisons. This time, however, the California
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is planning to send
women to a privately run prison.
In April, California contracted with GEO Group to open a 260-bed women's
in Bakersfield. The prison is scheduled to open in fall 2014, with the
contract effective through June 30, 2018. The contract includes an
opportunity for GEO Group to expand its prison by another 260 beds,
which would increase the overall four-year revenue for the prison from
$38,132,640 to $66,394,276. Unlike contracts for other privately-run
prisons, this agreement does not include a lock-up quota
Instead, CDCR will pay for actual occupancy - $94.50 per person per day
for each of the first 260 women sent to GEO Group's McFarland Female
Community Reentry facility. If the prison takes in more than 260 women,
CDCR will pay $86.95 per day for each woman, i.e. the contract does
provide CDRC with incentive to turn more women over to the prison.
Women who are classified as minimum or medium custody and have 60 months
or less of their sentence to serve will be eligible for transfer to the
new prison once it opens. Those who have active or potential ICE holds,
have convictions for violent felonies or who have served SHU (solitary
confinement) terms within the last six months are ineligible.
*Inside California's Women's Prisons*
In 2011, the US Supreme Court ordered California to reduce its prison
overcrowding. In response, the state has contracted with the for-profit
Corrections Corporation of America to send male prisoners to
in Arizona, Oklahoma and Mississippi. It began a program known as
realignment, in which people convicted of lower-level non-serious,
non-sexual offenses serve their sentences in county jails rather than
state prisons. It also converted Valley State Prison for Women
one of three state prisons for women, into a men's prison. Women were
sent to the neighboring Central California Women's Facility (CCWF), the
California Institution for Women (CIW) in Corona and a newly-opened
400-bed prison in Folsom. As of May 14, 2014
CCWF, originally built for 2004, is at 185 percent capacity with 3,700
women. CIW, built for 1,398, is at 150 percent capacity, with 2,101
women. The prison at Folsom holds 356 women.
The overcrowding has caused a strain on medical services in both CCWF
and CIW. In December 2013, court medical experts released an evaluation
of CCWF's health care. "We find that the Central California Women's
Facility is not providing adequate medical care, and that there are
systemic issues resulting in preventable morbidity and mortality and
that present an on-going serious risk of harm to patients," the
evaluation stated. "We believe that the majority of problems are
attributable to overcrowding, insufficient health-care staffing, and
inadequate bed space." In 2012, six deaths occurred at CCWF - five from
terminal cancer and one from complications of end-stage liver disease.
Seven deaths occurred at CCWF in 2013, including one from complications
of sepsis (a potentially life-threatening complication of an infection).
The medical experts noted several problems with the care of that
particular patient, including medical staff's failure to remove a
catheter that had become unnecessary nine months earlier.
The report also noted serious problems with continuity of care for
people transferred from Valley State to CCWF, problems with quality care
for chronic diseases, a fragmented medical intake process resulting in a
lack of identification and treatment of serious medical conditions, and
an insufficient number of beds and providers in the prison's Skilled
Overcrowding at CIW has also led to deteriorated medical conditions and
an unusually high number of deaths. In 2013, five deaths occurred
(compared to one death in 2012). According to the office of the federal
receiver, which oversees medical care in California's prisons, from
January to April 2014, CIW has had five more deaths.
Alicia Thompson, also known as Gypsy to her friends, was one of those 10
women. On February 24,^, 2014, her mother Margie received a phone call
from the prison stating that her daughter had hung herself and that she
had less than two weeks to claim her body. Margie, who had spoken to her
daughter three days earlier, doesn't believe her daughter committed
suicide. "She called every week. She seemed happy," she told Truthout.
"But lots of things were happening in that prison. She told me that one
girl passed away [a month earlier], but no one was talking about it."
Jayda Rasberry worked in the kitchen with Thompson when they were both
incarcerated at Valley State Prison. She also doesn't believe that
Thompson committed suicide. "She was a very fun person. She never talked
about hurting herself," she told Truthout. "We all had our feelings
about being inside, but she wasn't a depressed person." Rasberry was
also close friends with 32-year-old Shadae Schmidt, who died the
following month of a heart attack. On February 3, 2014, while in CIW's
solitary confinement unit, Schmidt suffered a stroke. She was taken to
the hospital and, within two weeks, returned to solitary confinement.
"She had had strokes before, but she had been getting help for that,"
Rasberry recalled. "But once she was moved from VSPW, she was given the
After her return to CIW following her stroke, Schmidt was given
medications that made her sick. She died of a heart attack on March 13,
Family members have reported that their loved ones have complained about
staff harassment and brutality. One relative shared a letter from a
loved one at CIW:
I was returning to my cell when a staff member appeared out of
nowhere. She grabbed my wrist and started dragging me behind her
down the hall. She was yelling "You do not belong out here." It was
not necessary to use force on me. I would have went to her or
stopped walking had she asked me to. I have put in a complaint but I
fear now they will start messing with me or allow another inmate to
A woman recently released from CIW told Truthout that staff members have
been targeting masculine-appearing women in particular. "They don't have
to do anything," she said. "Even a woman just asking for more tampons
will get them pepper sprayed."
In addition, the overcrowding has led to more frequent lockdowns. In a
letter to her family member, another woman at CIW reported, "Everyone is
locked down every day for 22 hours a day. We have no visitation or time
outside, just another way to have us in lock down 23 hours a day. I am
becoming so depressed, I just don't know how much more I can stand."
*Will Contracting with GEO Group Prevent More Deaths?*
CDCR spokeswoman Krissi Khokhobashvili told The Los Angeles Times
overcrowding in the women's prisons will drop to 140 percent of capacity
when McFarland takes in 520 women. But, while conditions at CIW and CCWF
may bolster CDCR's argument that a new prison will relieve prison
overcrowding and its accompanying problems, GEO Group has a history that
includes sexual abuse and poor medical care in its jails and prisons.
According to Caroline Isaacs, the Arizona program director of the
American Friends Service Committee, private prisons frequently
cherrypick the people they will house, eschewing those who need chronic
medical care. Given that women's health care is costlier to address,
private prison corporations often avoid opening women's prisons. The
agreement between California and GEO Group specifies that the women sent
to the McFarland facility must be classified as low medical risks. To
qualify for transfer, women must: not require daily nursing care; have
no mental health history within the past six months; have no unresolved
dental conditions; and have an anticipated need for fewer than four
basic consultations per year. But even with these criteria, people
inside GEO facilities face medical neglect and death.
In 2004, at the GEO-run Val Verde County Jail in Texas
<http://www.geogroup.com/maps/locationdetails/33>, a woman named LeTisha
Tapia also hung herself. The guards at the jail, which housed both men
and women, allowed them to have sex with each other. Tapia reported this
to the warden, who did nothing. Word spread about Tapia's action. She
was labeled a snitch and forced into a man's cell, where she was raped.
She was then further abused by prison staff. According to a 2006 press
release <http://www.privateci.org/rap_geo.html> from the Texas Civil
Rights Project, which filed a suit on behalf of Tapia's family after her
death, "The night before she died, Mrs. Tapia was abused by a guard.
Lieutenant Duggar interrogated Mrs. Tapia about a rules violation by
forcing her to her knees and kicking her. He threatened her with rape,
telling her 'If you were my cellmate, I'd make you my bitch.' He called
her a 'low-life prostitute ho' and told her she would spend the next 15
years in jail. He ordered three female officers to strip-search Mrs.
Tapia and watched as they made her expose herself to him. Although she
told Lt. Duggar she would kill herself if placed in administrative
segregation, Duggar threw Mrs. Tapia into a segregation cell and left
her there, naked, without blankets for the entire night. Jail policy
requires that every inmate see a psychiatrist before being placed in
administrative segregation, but Mrs. Tapia never saw a doctor. The jail
guards failed to inspect her cell every 15 minutes (as required by
policy), and Mrs. Tapia was found hanging in her cell that night."
In 2007, Val Verde County and GEO Group agreed to pay $200,000 to settle
the lawsuit <http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=15308> filed by
Tapia's family. The settlement agreement also required the local
government to hire an independent monitor for the jail.
In 2009, prisoners at GEO-operated Reeves County Detention Center in
Texas rioted over conditions, including poor medical care and multiple
deaths, including that of 32-year-old Jesus Manuel Galindo, who died
after suffering a seizure while in solitary confinement. Prison staff
had placed Galindo in solitary for complaining about the prison's
failure to provide him with medication needed to control his epileptic
seizures. In 2010, the ACLU filed suit
on behalf of Galindo's family.
In 2012, while at the GEO-run Adelanto Detention Facility East,
58-year-old Fernando Dominguez-Valivia died of complications from
An inspection report by the US Department of Homeland Security noted
that his death, while the first for that facility, had been preventable.
"The investigation disclosed several egregious errors committed by
medical staff, including failure to perform proper physical examinations
in response to symptoms and complaints, failure to pursue any records
critical to continuity of care, and failure to facilitate timely and
appropriate access to off-site treatment," stated the report.
More recently, people incarcerated at GEO-run ICE detention centers in
Tacoma, Washington, and in Conroe, Texas
have staged mass hunger strikes to demand an end to mass deportations as
well as to protest conditions inside
including poor medical care, overcrowding and unjust treatment.
*Alternatives to Overcrowding or New Prisons?*
In 2011, California enacted its Alternative Custody Program
<http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Parole/ACP.html> (ACP) allowing women convicted
of non-violent offenses with less than two years of their sentence
remaining to complete their sentences at home on an ankle monitor. Three
years later, advocacy group California Coalition for Women Prisoners
wrote an open letter to the state's Select Committee on Justice
Reinvestment about the failure of the program to significantly reduce
the women's prison population, noting that less than 400 women have
actually been released.
"Without significant retooling, even should the state proceed with
expansion of the program without revising some of the current policies
such as the timeline of application process and expanding the
eligibility requirements for participants, the state cannot fully
realize the implied cost savings and population reduction," wrote Misty
Rojo, the Coalition's program coordinator. Under the current guidelines,
applicants who have a "current psychiatric or medical condition that
requires ongoing care" may be denied access to ACP. However, in a phone
interview with Truthout, Rojo noted that the application process
includes applying for MediCal so that a woman has health insurance once
she is released. "If they're going to have access to MediCal, then they
shouldn't be denied based on the need for ongoing care," she stated. She
also pointed out that if ACP were expanded to include men, the state's
in-prison population would decrease substantially.
CDCR's Female Offender Programs and Services office, which oversees the
ACP, has not yet responded to queries.
"The new for-profit GEO prison contract and ACP are both ways that CDCR
are using to claim they can relieve overcrowding despite historical
evidence that creating more bed space means creating more prisons that
will soon be overcrowded," Rojo told Truthout. "CDCR refuses to work
with advocates to create an ACP that actually allows the access and
population reductions it was intended. GEO is a prison where there is no
oversight and little information except these are for profit, not
rehabilitation, and people in women's prisons will find themselves
suffering the same destructions of family and community in a different
She also noted that GEO's new prison will initially open with 260 beds
and that the criteria for placement in ACP and GEO Group's prison are
essentially the same. "That's 260 people that could access the
Alternative Custody Program and be allowed to go home instead," she
stated. That sentiment is echoed by others who have spent time in
California's prison system.
Krystal (Krys) Shelley, who spent 12 and a half years in California's
prison system, was friends with both Shadae Schmidt and Alicia Thompson.
Although she was released from Valley State Prison before its conversion
to a men's prison, she remains in contact with those who were moved to
CIW. "Building another prison is not going to stop the deaths," she told
Truthout. "Building another prison is not the solution to all the
problems as to why we're in prison. They think that our lives aren't
Victoria Law <http://www.truth-out.org/author/itemlist/user/45103>
Victoria Law is a writer, photographer and mother. She is the author of
"Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women" (PM Press
2009), the editor of the zine Tenacious: Art and Writings from Women in
Prison and a co-founder of Books Through Bars - NYC. She is currently
working on transforming "Don't Leave Your Friends Behind," a
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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