by Diana Block and Karen Shain
Two courageous medical staff members, Maryanne Perlmutter and Monnie Ibrahim, working at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) have charged that prison officials tampered with and hid medical records before court-mandated monitors reviewed the files last fall. In court documents filed on July 31, the women described how administrators hid incriminating medical files, generated HIV test results for prisoners who were not aware of being tested, and forged medical documents. Their decision to stop participating in the corrupt maneuvers of the CDC is part of the growing response in various parts of society to inhuman prison conditions.
This exposure came on top of a recent scandal indicating that the California Department of Corrections (CDC) failed to do anything when it was informed in 1997 by the Department of Health that BCL, a contracted medical lab, had generated false tests results for thousands of prisoners, including women at CCWF. Although BCL was eventually shut down, there is no evidence that the CDC ever notified or re-tested the prisoners involved, many of whom have since been released without knowing that crucial results of such tests as HIV or pap smears could be wrong.
Based upon this new proof of gross medical neglect, attorneys filed a motion to re-open discovery in the Shumate v. Wilson case. The original federal class action suit filed in 1995 on behalf of women prisoners at CCWF and the California Institution for Women (CIW), charged that the California Department of Corrections failed to provide crucial medical care to seriously ill women. In the fall of 1999 the court mandated monitoring team decided that the two women’s prisons named in the suit were basically in compliance with the provisions of a 1998 settlement agreement to improve the quality of medical care. Despite all the serious developments, Judge Shubb refused to consider any of the new evidence. Unfortunately, because of his refusal and given the legal limitations imposed on class action lawsuits by the 1996 Prison Reform Litigation Act (PRLA), the Shumate case has now been officially dismissed. Plaintiffs and their attorneys are committed to pursuing new options until real, substantial change in medical treatment is achieved.
These recent developments reflect the growing difficulty of winning improvements in abominable health care through courtroom channels. Now is the time to build massive public pressure for basic health care demands including: the immediate re-testing of all prisoners who received results from BCL; legislative hearings into the CDC’s criminal negligence in this situation; and the transfer the responsibility of medical care from the CDC to an outside, public medical institution.