It’s Your Health! Prisons: Threat to Communities

Pam Fadem
Prisons are a threat to the good health of our
communities, and this affects women in particular
ways. The newspapers sometimes scream out the
most outrageous examples of bad care and denial
of health care in prison: the woman who died of
an asthma attack while waiting for a visit from
her family at CCWF in Winter 2000; the man who
died of starvation in Feb. 2004 in the Substance
Abuse Treatment Unit at Corcoran; the man who
bled to death when his dialysis shunt was poorly
taken care of also in Feb. 2004 at Corcoran; and
finally, Charisse Shumate, one of the founders of
CCWP, who died in Aug. 2001 after years of no
care and bad care for cancer and sickle cell
anemia.
Too many of our sisters- and our brothers- are
going into the prisons relatively healthy, and
coming home permanently disabled, chronically ill
or not coming home at all, as the examples above
expose. This is why a class action suit about
the systematic lack of medical care was filed by
women prisoners against the Calif. Dept. of
Corrections (CDC) [Shumate et al. v. Wilson et
al]. Bad medical care, whether deliberate or
incompetent, is also a form of violence when it
is part of the accepted day to day life of any
community. Once people get that State number
after their name, the CDC interprets it as a
license to disregard and deliberately abuse the
health of all women and men behind the walls.
CCWP joins with health care activists on both
sides of the wall in condemning prisons as a
threat to the health of our communities. Many
diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis C and
tuberculosis disproportionately affect
communities of color. When our family and
community members are incarcerated these
illnesses go untreated or are mistreated and
spread rapidly inside the walls. When people
return home again, this lack of care feeds the
epidemics on the outside.
The violence of the prison system itself is a
serious health problem, from sexual assaults to
the isolation from community (inside or outside
the walls) that leads to an increase in mental
illness and suicide, especially in the special
housing units. Beyond the direct impact on the
people who go to prison, the disappearance of
thousands of women and men, particularly in
communities of color,has a devastating impact on
the children left behind and the ability of
communities to survive.
There is a window of opportunity right now with
the public exposure of the brutality of the CDC,
the appointment of the new oversight
administrator and the hearings sponsored by State
Senators Gloria Romero (Dem, LA) and Jackie
Speier (Dem, SF). We need to make sure that
similar attention gets focused on the prison
system as a public health menace!
This is a shout out to all health care workers,
families and other people who are in touch with
prisoners. We need to talk to each other, share
information and work together on empowering our
communities through peer health education and
other health care strategies, as well as on
building a public health campaign demanding
health care as a human right for all people and
an end to the mass incarceration of communities
of color and poor people.