by Alice do Valle, Justice Now
Another woman died on July 29th, at the Central California Women’ Facility (CCWF) in a string of three deaths in 10 days resulting from medical neglect, indifference and failure by that institution’s medical staff to recommend early release of terminally ill prisoners.
“It’s outrageous that women are dying in the custody of the California Department of Corrections because of horrendous substandard medical care and failure to adhere to the law,” said Cynthia Chandler, the Co-director of Justice Now, who had been working with all three women.
The most recent death was that of 44-year-old Jeanette LaPlat, who suffered from Hepatitis C. “Even when they knew she was going to die they didn’t recommend her for compassionate release because they didn’t want to admit how sick she became in their care,” said Darci Byrd, Jeanette’s sister. Compassionate Release is a California law that allows for the release of terminally ill prisoners with six months or less to live and whose release would not pose a threat to society.
Marina Ramirez was 51 years old when she died on July 26th of a complication from multiple myeloma, a type of bone cancer. Despite the seriousness of her illness, prison staff unnecessarily delayed issuing bed-ridden Ms. Ramirez a compassionate release recommendation until about 20 days before she died. “This delay meant that she was out of custody for only hours and died in the hospital near the prison instead of at home in the care of her family,” said Courtaney Wilson, Ms. Ramirez’ Legal Advocate.
Melody Osburn, who died in prison on July 19th at 46 years of age, had been battling lung cancer since 1998. In the last few months, although Ms. Osburn had reported increasing pain and discomfort, doctors at CCWF insisted that her cancer was in remission and took her off all pain medication. She didn’t get any medical attention until she threw up blood all over her cell on June 30th and was rushed to Madera Community Hospital.
“They knew she was terminally ill, but didn’t want to start a compassionate release process. So they told her the cancer was in remission even though it wasn’t,” said Patti Hagen, a friend of Ms. Osburn. Supporters of Ms. Osburn’s release circulated a petition inside of CCWF that gathered 1,342 signatories, including correctional officers and prisoners. “Melody was highly esteemed by all and I hope that her death helps highlight the callous ways women are dealt with in prison,” Ms. Hagen added.
“These deaths highlight the chronic problems that persist in prison healthcare: medical neglect, indifference and failure to follow the law, to name a few,” Ms. Chandler said. “Prisons are institutions that function through secrecy, dehumanization and abuse. In this environment, even a minor sentence becomes a death sentence.”