Legal Corner: Growing old in prison–what will it mean?

by Cassie Pierson, Staff Attorney, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.
Due to lengthier sentences and “three strikes”, the population in California’s prisons is growing older. What will this mean for you medically? Well, unfortunately, it means that your health will deteriorate more quickly and the CDC will have another way to make your life miserable.
Pursuant to Section 3050(a) of Title 15, “[E]ach inmate shall be provided a wholesome, nutritionally balanced diet.” However, as you women know, all women prisoners are provided the same diet. There are no “special diets” for prisoners unless you are confined to the Skilled Nursing Facility at CCWF or the Outpatient Housing Unit at CIW or you are pregnant. Even if a women is pregnant, the only “special” diet she gets is a snack supplement and maybe some extra milk to drink. Does diet affect your overall health?
As a woman grows older, is her diet even more important? The answer to both is YES!
According to the American Medical Association Complete Guide to Women’s Health*, older people need fewer calories because their metabolism slows down. However, eating less can mean that you aren’t getting the nutrients you need. Poor nutrition, in turn, leads to health problems.
Some of the signs of poor nutrition are: weight loss, lightheadedness, disorientation, and lethargy, all of which can be mistaken for symptoms of illness. One way to make sure that you are getting the proper amount of nutrients is to eat five servings of fresh fruit and vegetable each day.
Are you getting five servings of fresh fruit and vegetables in prison? What about vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin C–all of which are necessary for good health?
Diet has been linked to many of the chronic diseases–including heart disease, high blood pressure, some cancers, diabetes, osteoporosis, chronic liver disease & cirrhosis, and atherosclerosis (buildup of fatty deposits in the artery walls).
So, if you can’t get the proper nutrition while you’re in prison, what happens if you then develop an illness as a result of improper diet or you have an existing illness which is made worse because of improper diet? Can you then get treatment while you’re incarcerated? The answer, as you already know, is MAYBE. Will the care and treatment you do get be adequate?
PROBABLY NOT. Will you have to file numerous 602s and co-pays in order to access the care you need? YES!!
Then there are the routine tests and procedures that an older woman needs. All women aged 61 or older should have the following procedures every year: pelvic exam, eye exam, hearing exam, breast exam, skin cancer check, rectal exam. Dental exams should be conducted every six months. How many co-pay requests will you file to get your routine exams?
The CDC needs to change its system for the delivery of health care.
There is nothing in place now that ensures that a prisoner will be automatically scheduled for follow-up or routine exams or appointments. The problem will only become worse as the prison population grows older.

* Edited by Ramona I. Slupik, M.D., 1996, Random House, New York. All information about nutrition and routine exams is taken from this publication.