Prison health care improves, deaths down

By: Roger Phelps, The Telegraph
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Folsom’s two state prisons are expected to show lowered inmate death rates when figures are compiled later this month. Death rates are down statewide – nearly 30 percent – under management by a court-appointed receiver. A judge found health conditions inhumane in California prisons. “That figure is global, systemwide,” said Luis Patino, spokesman for the receiver’s office. “We do have (raw) numbers of deaths by facility, but the recent report worked with numbers of deaths separated by potential preventability, minus by age or natural cause.” An early move mandated by the receiver’s office was to improve health conditions by reducing severe crowding in prisons. At Folsom’s California State Prison, Sacramento, inmate beds no longer occupy a gymnasium on prison property. Crowding was lessened partly by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation transferring CSP-Sac inmates to privately managed prison facilities out of state. Overcrowding didn’t get as bad at Folsom State Prison, because the 19th-century design didn’t include convertible spaces, such as a gymnasium. Receiver Clark Kelso said the statewide figures are encouraging, but don’t demonstrate a finished job of improving health care in the state’s prisons. The receiver’s report gave figures from first-quarter 2006 to second-quarter 2008. “For the first time in many, many years, there is genuine reason for some hope that CDCR’s health-care system can be fixed,” Kelso said. “The prisoner death rate has trended downward for the last 10 quarters.” However, Patino said, first quarters of years showed comparatively high mortality for prisoners, and that comparing first-quarter 2006 to first-quarter 2008 yielded a considerably smaller drop in death rates statewide in the prison system, some 19 percent. Ultimately, overhauling the prison health system is designed to save the state money. “Consultants from the University of Texas Medical Branch estimate that an improved tele-medicine program could avoid inmate transport costs totaling nearly $60 million annually,” the report states.