Experts say three prisons fail to provide adequate healthcare

This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s contention that California has fixed the problems of delivering medical care in its prisons collides with the first reviews of some of those prisons by court-appointed medical experts.

All three of the first prisons that were evaluated failed, though two were deemed capable of passing if fixes continue to be made. Healthcare at the third, RJ Donovan Correctional Facility near San Diego, was so bad that the court’s experts questioned how it could have been given “high” marks recently by the state Inspector General.


In reports filed Monday in U.S. District Court, the experts deemed conditions at RJ Donovan so serious that they “present an on-going serious risk of harm to patients and result in preventable morbidity and mortality.”

The prison has recently been converted, and 80% of patients have chronic diseases and more than half require mental health treatment. The experts noted that medical staffing has decreased even as crowding increased, and that medical care was focused on responding to immediate problems as they arose. The team found inmates’ medical conditions sometimes went months without evaluation or treatment. Such lapses were documented in the deaths of several inmates, including one dying inmate for whom prison guards failed to perform CPR.

Facilities also were a major problem. Some medical areas were deemed “unfit for use” while others lacked sinks or doors. In one clinic, a nurse worked in a closet, evaluating an inmate who sat in the hall. Discipline was also a problem: The experts noted a nurse accused of “over-familiarity” with an inmate remained employed in the mailroom for two years while the case was pending.

The reports were filed before the same three federal judges whom Brown must persuade that California is ready to forego federal oversight of its prison system. One of those judges is weighing evidence and expert testimony now over the adequacy of inmate psychiatric care. Brown has announced intentions to file a similar bid to resume control over medical care, now run by a court-appointed receiver.

Reports also were filed for San Quentin and the California Men’s Colony near San Luis Obispo. The experts said those prisons continue to have serious problems but are on the path toward providing adequate care.

[Updated 5:30 p.m. March 19: Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard issued a short, prepared response.

“Healthcare in California’s prisons has been under federal receivership for seven long, costly years,” Beard said. “I’m confident that if control of medical care was returned back to the state, we’d be able to demonstrate that inmates are receiving quality health care.”]