Editorial: Prison Health Care Worse Than Ever

Health care is a fundamental human right for all people, and it was at the heart of the founding of CCWP over 10 years ago. Women inside, including one of our founding members Charisse Shumate, argued that along with the class action lawsuit demanding decent medical care for women prisoners, we also needed to organize a statewide network of prisoners, families, friends, educators, health care workers, and activists (including former prisoners) to keep this issue in the public eye.
After years of hard work on the part of many prison legal and human rights organizations, the CDCR was forced to give token recognition to the specific needs of women prisoners, by appointing a Director of Women?s Affairs and creating the Gender Specific Task Force. But at the same time that we are seeing some small steps forward in that area, the state of health care remains abysmal. We are glad that the July 2006 report of the Federal Receiver, Robert Sillen, is exposing the depth of the problems. Sillen found that the prison medical system ?was in worse shape than first described and that his remedies would have to be more dramatic and far-reaching than previously envisioned? (reported by Mark Martin, San Francisco Chronicle). This issue of The Fire Inside includes stories which illustrate the appalling situation Sillen?s report documents.
We are at an important moment ? the spotlight is on the CDCR, especially now in a gubernatorial election year. Both candidates, Schwarzenegger and Angelides have nothing to say about the health care crisis ? the only solution they offer is to build more prisons and hire more guards.
For our part, CCWP is working in coalition with other groups and is asking to meet with the Receiver, Robert Sillen. We hope together to develop solutions that will be a genuine step forward in the fight for prisoners? human right to health care. We are also committed to building a Crisis Response Network which will coordinate timely responses by prisoners, family members and advocates to intolerable health care crises for as long as they continue to occur.