Two prisons -- the Central California Women's Facility and the adjacent Valley State Prison for Women -- currently house 64 percent of California's total female prison population, or almost 7,300 inmates, according to the most recent California Department of Corrections (CDC) statistics. Together, the two prisons constitute the largest women's prison complex in the world, and now house far more prisoners than they were designed to. Overcrowding is a constant problem, and prison activists insist that under such conditions there isn't enough -- let alone good enough -- health care to go around.
San Francisco-based Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC) will file suit against Valley State later this year over alleged violations of privacy and health care needs, as well as accounts of systematic sexual abuse. According to staff attorney Cassie Pierson, the agency has received letters from women prisoners who have complained of not being able to get prescriptions on time for chronic and potentially contagious diseases.
"[The prisoners] sometimes wait three to five days, [even] two to three weeks, for refills of medication, including antibiotics," Pierson says.
At the Central California Women's Facility, California Prison Focus and Women's Positive Legal Action Network have recently focused their efforts on repealing a new prison policy dealing with medication for HIV-positive patients. Previously, HIV-infected women received a monthly supply of their pills and were allowed to take their required doses in the privacy of their cells. That policy was changed last December; now inmates and activists claim that these women are required to stand in line outside every day -- sometimes as many as three times a day -- so health care providers can observe them taking their medications.
California Prison Focus's Judy Greenspan explains that the new policy is a great hardship for women who must sometimes miss meals and work -- and even face punishment for tardiness -- as a result of waiting in line. "On average, women report that they're spending two and a half hours a day outside standing in line for their medications, even if they're sick," says Greenspan.
Greenspan also notes that many medications for HIV must be taken four to six times a day in order to prevent drug resistance. The new medication policy makes it difficult, if not impossible, to keep to the recommended dosing schedules.
CDC representatives said they couldn't comment on the charges because of the pending lawsuit, but they said claims presented by the activist group were simply "not accurate."