We're all responsible for ignoring the inhumane conditions that
amount to nothing less than torture in California's prisons.
Our group of 4,600 doctors, nurses, teachers, college professors and
social workers receives hundreds of pleas weekly from the families of
inmates asking for help. Here are three:
* James Diesso, a mentally ill inmate in the California Medical
Facility in Vacaville, was put in a double cell with another mentally ill
person. Both inmates had violent histories of acting out their mental
illnesses. Now, Jeffrey Ford, Diesso's cellmate, is dead. Diesso is on
trial for murder. Who takes the responsibility for careless
double-celling practices when there are 18,500 mentally ill people housed
with others throughout the system?
* Charles Wesley, an inmate serving time at Chino for auto theft, now
has permanent nerve damage because of medical neglect. He asked officials
and staff of the prison's medical clinic for help 61 times and was denied
it until it was too late. Seven months later, he had back surgery, which
found seriously herniated discs. He was made to work for less than 20
cents an hour while suffering excruciating pain. Wesley will be released
from prison soon, permanently disabled.
* James Rookwood, a 33-year-old inmate serving an 11-month sentence
for parole violation, is now sitting in a 5-by-7-foot cell in Vacaville
in a wheelchair. He suffered a stroke, which has paralyzed 80% of his
right side. He was denied access to a doctor or physical therapy and will
be released from prison permanently disabled and much sicker, mentally
and physically, than before he went in.
Reports of medical neglect, rape, murder, psychological torture and
intimidation by guards comparable to that in a Third World country are
well-documented in our files. If the inmates speak to the press, there is
retribution in the form of lost visits or worse.
The Department of Health Services has asked for money to handle the
constant conveyor belt of thousands of inmates being sent to prison by
the courts. Gov. Gray Davis has refused. Instead, millions of taxpayer
dollars are paid out in medical lawsuits. Where's the "correction" part
Cells were built for one person, yet the inmates are jammed together
because of overcrowding. To get a taste of living in a cell, go into your
8-by-10-foot bathroom for a month. Take a mentally ill person with you.
Some prisons have been on lockdown, in which inmates are confined to
their cells for 23 hours a day, for a year or more.
It puts great stress on inmates when their "cellies" are mentally ill,
so great that they must sleep with one eye open and be afraid for their
lives at all times. There is little if any education, rehabilitation or
At Mule Creek, the so-called model prison in Ione, prisoners in the
dormitory live under a heavy cloud of second-hand smoke. And treatment
for cancer is virtually nonexistent for prisoners, except for a brand-new
oncology arrangement just beginning at Vacaville. The wait for medical
care is six weeks at most state prisons. If an inmate is allowed to see a
dentist, there is an eight-month wait.
Is this inhumane treatment of prisoners really lowering crime? If
statistics were to be believed, there's more evidence to support
alternatives such as rehabilitation, community service and after-school
supervision of youth.
Somebody needs to sit down and think this crime thing through because
the current system is causing more crime than it is preventing. The right
thing to do is to release nonviolent prisoners--70% of California's total
prison population; institute alternative sentencing for the mentally ill
and drug addicts; and send dying prisoners home on compassionate release.
Otherwise, all we get is revenge against wrongdoers that results in them
going home to their communities sicker.
B. Cayenne Bird is a volunteer director of United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect. Web Site: Http://www.geocities.com/capitolhill/parliament/2398/home.html
Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times