Women Campaign for Better Medical Care

by Judy Greenspan
Chanting “Health Care is a Right!” supporters of women prisoners and their campaign for basic medical care held a loud and angry demonstration on Saturday, October 4 in front of California’s two largest women’s prisons, the
Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) and Valley State Prison for Women, both located in Chowchilla.
Despite a recent legal settlement reached on behalf of more than 5,000 women prisoners in this state, women prisoners with chronic and serious medical problems face continuing crises and neglect. Over Labor Day weekend, an HIV+ woman prisoner died in her cell. She spent two weeks vomiting and becoming dehydrated. Testimony from cellmates indicates that the medical staff at CCWF never took her condition seriously. One MTA told this woman prisoner that if she could walk to the bathroom, there was nothing wrong with her.
It was the hard work of the women inside, led by HIV+ prisoner organizer Joann Walker, that first brought the medical neglect to the attention of outside activists and lawyers. On April 4, 1995, a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of women with sickle cell anemia, cancer, HIV, asthma, diabetes and other serious and chronic illnesses at CCWF and the California Institution for Women at Frontera. At the same time that the lawsuit was filed, the California Coalition for Women Prisoners was formed to support the demands of the women inside for basic medcal care.
The demonstration on October 4, which demanded, “No More Deaths – Support the Fight Against Medical Neglect and Torture,” brought the campaign full circle. Women’s organizations and prisoners’ rights groups such as WORLD (Women Organized to Respond to Life-Threating Diseases), California Prison Focus, Abolition Road, Women’s Positive Legal Action Network, Catholic Charities’ HIV/AIDS in Prison Project, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and others addressed the protest.
In December, the U.S. District Court in Sacramento is expeced to ratify the legal settlement. However, the women inside believe that without continuous public pressure and scrutiny, nothing will change. CCWP is planning a demonstration in front of the Sacramento federal courthouse on December 15. Unfortunately, the second largest prison which sits across the street from CCWF, Valley State Prison for Women, is not covered by the legal settlement. Several prisoners have already died there because of substandard medical care. The California Coalition for Women Prisoners is committed to continuing its advocacy efforts on behalf of all women prisoners.