Tag Archives: prisons

Is California’s prison health system really fixed?

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

After years of failing to prevent preventable inmate deaths, the California Department of Corrections health system was placed under a federal receivership in 2005. Soon after, state officials claimed that the system had reached an “acceptable standard,” and that they were ready to take control back from the feds.

Over the course of a year, Southern California Public Radio’s Julie Small has been digging deep into the system to determine if it’s really as acceptable as the Schwarzenegger administration claims. You can see the whole series here. There are five main installments, four of which come with sidebars. Everything comes in text and audio with a little video and photo mixed in.

Chino Prison’s medical system from 89.3 KPCC on Vimeo.

ReportingOnHealth.org has a conversation with Small about the subject.

Related

Hear Small talk about her reporting process and the difficulties of covering prison health with our friends at Reporting on Health, and check out this related Q and A.

More than 22,000 inmates are HIV-positive

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Poynter’s Al Tompkins spotted a new U.S. Department of Justice report (PDF) on HIV in American prisons. Among other things, the report finds 22,000 HIV-positive inmates, a number which Tompkins points out may be even higher because fewer than half of American states test every inmate that comes through their doors. About 5,672 prisoners have confirmed AIDS, a disease whose complications killed 130 inmates in 2007, the most recent year for which numbers are available.

Here’s Tompkins quoting some particularly interesting numbers from DOJ:

prison
Prison in Huntsville, Texas. Photo by J. Stephen Conn via Flickr.

The Justice Department said just three states account for 46 percent of all of the HIV cases in state prisons:

“Florida (3,626), New York (3,500) and Texas (2,450) reported the largest number of HIV/AIDS cases. While these three states account for 24 percent of the total state custody population, together they account for 46 percent of HIV/AIDS cases in state prison. New York continues to report large decreases (down 450) in the number of HIV/AIDS cases. Notable increases between 2007 and 2008 were in California (up 246), Missouri (up 169) and Florida (up 166).

The report breaks down how many HIV cases are in each state, by gender, how manyAIDS-related deaths were in each state and the circumstances under which inmates were tested.

Elderly prison population booming

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

CNN’s Stephanie Chen considers the issues that surround elderly prisoners, a fast-growing group that has generally flown under the radar. According to Chen, “An analysis of Bureau of Justice Statistics data found that the male prison population over age 55 ballooned by 82 percent in eight years, from 48,800 inmates in 1999 to 89,900 in 2007.”

These older inmates are typically more expensive and in poorer health than their younger peers. In Georgia, Chen reports, “the state spends about $8,500 on medical costs for inmates over 65, compared with about an average of $950 for those who are younger.”

Every inmate here has a medical condition; dementia, hypertension and diabetes are the most common, the warden says. “With the elderly population, we’re beginning to run something comparable to nursing homes,” says Sharon Lewis, medical director for the Georgia Department of Corrections. “This is one of the unhealthiest populations found anywhere. They really lived life hard.”

The boom in geriatric prisoners has stressed state budgets, especially in states where money was already tight. In response, Chen writes, some states are considering softening their stance on older prisoners.

To ease budget woes in California, one bill up for debate would allow nonviolent elderly prisoners to be released into hospice care or monitored with ankle bracelets. In the past few years, Georgia officials say, the state has released more frail and dying inmates on medical reprieve than ever before. Other states, including New York and Virginia, have also allowed early release of ailing elderly inmates.

For tips about reporting on jails and prisons, be sure to read Naseem Sowti Miller’s tip sheet, Covering health care in jails, and her presentation on the topic from the 2008 Urban Health Journalism Workshop. For tips and tools on reporting on America’s graying population, check out reports from last month’s Aging in the 21st Century workshop.

Prisons to get H1N1 vaccines before everyone else?

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Poynter’s Al Tompkins, always quick to seize on an interesting emerging story, rounds up reports that inmates are getting H1N1 vaccines before the general population.

Predictably, this revelation has spawned a bit of outrage. According to Tompkins, the vaccines go to prisons because they are high-risk areas in which a large number of people live in close quarters.

States use videoconferencing for prison health care

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

John Gramlich of the state policy-focused nonprofit news organization Stateline.org reports that more states are using videoconferencing for inmate health consultations to avoid the cost and danger involved in transporting a prisoner outside prison grounds.

Gramlich’s research spans the nation and covers a range of technologies and implementations. Texas is a national leader in the practice; Illinois is considering jumping on the bandwagon. Georgia primarily uses video conferences for psychiatric evaluations and Connecticut’s just getting started.

The remote conferences are generally relied on for consultation rather than treatment. Some states allow “virtual visitation” through video conference in family court, a practice that may spread to prisons as well. There are some fears that limited face-to-face human interaction could have a psychological effect on prisoners, but for now the decreased cost and increased safety and convenience seem to be winning out.