Legal Corner: Custody interference in healthcare

In the October 2005, Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law Re Appointment of Receiver (Plata v. Schwarzenegger), Judge Henderson addressed several areas of concern in which the court found the CDCR woefully inadequate in its provision of health care services. The court?s findings received much needed publicity and a receiver was appointed. However, one area of concern addressed by the court but not been given much publicity was that custodial staff often interfered with the prisoner?s medical care. The court found that, ?[T]oo frequently medical care decisions are preempted by custodial staff who have been given improper managerial responsibility over medical decision-making.? The court pointed to a lack of respect by custodial staff for medical staff. In addition, the court found that custodial staff often raised the issue of ?custody concerns? to explain why they needed to actively interfere with medical decisions. However, in the court?s opinion, the reasons relied on had little to do with legitimate custody concerns.
How exactly does custodial staff interfere with medical? Examples include the following:
(1) A correctional officer (C/O) who confiscated a ?short-walk chrono? because the prisoner used a cane and could ?stop and rest.?
(2) A C/O who confiscated a prisoner?s wheelchair that was parked outside the cell while the prisoner was sleeping. The prisoner had been ordered by medical to avoid putting any weight on her surgically repaired foot for four months. It took the prisoner three days to get her wheelchair back.
(3) Another C/O who refused a prisoner access to the medical clinic despite the fact that the prisoner had a valid pass and scheduled medical visit.
(4) A prisoner denied access to emergency care for a swollen and discolored hand. Two different C/Os looked at the hand and said it wasn?t an emergency. (Later the same day the prisoner was finally able to get the hand x-rayed and found out that the hand was broken).
(5) Another ?short-walk chrono? that was confiscated because it appeared to be a ?forgery? despite the fact that the same C/O had checked the same chrono a few days earlier and found it was valid.
(6) C/Os who wrote expiration dates on ?lower bunk? chronos and then moved prisoners out of their lower bunks.
All of the above incidents occurred at one prison during March and April 2006, and were reported to CCWP. Fortunately, all were resolved and the prisoners were able to regain their respective chronos or access the care they needed. However, one can only imagine the number of incidents that went unreported by prisoners because they were fearful of getting ?written up? by staff.
The unfortunate truth is that the CDCR is incapable of providing medical care and the receiver is aware of the problem and is taking steps to make things right. If you are experiencing difficulty in accessing appropriate health care in prison you should immediately file a 602 appeal. If the problem persists, then you should contact the attorneys at the Prison Law Office, General Delivery, San Quentin, CA 94964. You can also contact Robert Sillen, California Prison Receivership, 1731 Technology Dr., Suite 700, San Jose, Ca. 95110.