Budget Cuts Threaten Prison Programs, Medical Care

As Californias state budget wrestles with repayment of the states energy debt and coping with the economic decline from the Sept. 11 attacks, Gov. Gray Davis has ordered state agencies to prepare for a 15% cut in spending. Davis orders specifically exempt public safety expenditures from the budget cuts. Unfortunately, the California Department of Corrections (CDC) does not define most prisoner programming as part of the public safety part of their budget. According to Stephen Green, assistant secretary for the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, we probably will have to cut back on things like education and vocational training in the prisons, and perhaps some drug rehabilitation programs.
CDC says that budget cuts may require that they close one prison in addition to cuts in prison programs. Meanwhile, there is little being said about the development of the new 5,000 bed facility in Delano. The construction of the states 24th new prison in 20 years is puzzling in light of this economic crisis. To further muddle the dilemma, this new prison is completely inappropriate considering the decline in crime rates and the leveling off of prison admissions.
According to the Justice Policy Institute, Since 1989, new felony arrests in California have been steadily dropping, and last year, for the first time in two decades, Californias prison population growth rate is 0%.
Given that the CDCs most recent prisoner population projections forecast 18,000 fewer inmates than they estimated six months earlier, it is hard to see the need to build another new prison, especially when the state is closing one.
This information begs the question, do we need a new prison, or do we need to keep our educational, vocational and drug rehabilitation programs? The answer seems clear.
Especially troubling are cuts in medical care. One year after nine deaths at CCWF, medical care cutbacks continue to threaten womens lives.
What we have seen over the past few months is a dramatic cutback in care for the most medically vulnerable women at CCWF, said Judy Greenspan, Chairwoman of HIV/Hepatitis C in Prison (HIP) Committee of California Prison Focus (CPF).
We are alarmed at the misinformation and roadblocks to care that women prisoners receive from doctors and other medical staff, said Suzanne Taviansky of CPF. The current hepatitis C doctor there routinely tells women they are cured of hepatitis C while denying them life-extending treatment.
Women prisoners who are undergoing chemotherapy for hepatitis C and cancer are being punished when they are too weak to go to work or school, said Sarah Johnson, another HIP Committee spokeswoman. The refusal to grant these women disabled status forces the women to choose between saving their parole date and getting life-saving treatment for their disease. This is an unfair and inhumane choice.
Women with HIV are no longer being monitored for disease progression every 90 days and often have to wait over three months to get their results from blood tests. Women with hepatitis C are being denied access to educational material, test results, liver biopsies and medically indicated treatment.
Women prisoners with chronic and serious illnesses like HIV and hepatitis C must have more access to medical staff and treatment, not less.
For more information contact HIP/CPF, 2940 16th St., Room 100, San Francisco, Ca. 94102-4929.