[Pnews] California Turns to Private Prison to Address Overcrowding and Medical Care

Prisoner News 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://www.truth-out.org/author/itemlist/user/45103>, Truthout 
<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 
out-of-state prisons 
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 
Nursing Facility.

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 
wrong medication."

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
    beat me.

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 
<http://www.latimes.com/local/political/la-me-ff-early-releases-prison-crowding-20140428-story.html> that 
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 
prison setting."

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 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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