Tag Archives: California budget

California Judge Says State of California is Still Providing Inadequate Health Services to Inmates

Currently, health care in California’s prison system is under court supervision, in the aftermath of a lawsuit pointing out that conditions were so poor in California’s prisons that an average of one inmate per week was dying due to inadequate health care. Huge numbers of people in California’s prisons are disabled; just for example, people with developmental disabilities make up around four percent of California’s inmate population. This adds considerably to the complexity of providing health care services in California prisons, as does the very high rate of infectious disease observed in most prisons.

The state recently attempted to end the receivership of its prisons on the grounds that conditions had improved. More studies were conducted to assess the current situation, and Judge Charles Breyer issued a tentative ruling that the court supervision must continue because conditions in many California prisons still do not meet basic standards of health and safety. The human and civil rights of California prisoners are being violated, in no small part because the state is struggling with a massive prison population paired with epic budget cuts, which is pretty much a recipe for disaster.

Here’s the judge, discussing why he decided not to end the receivership:

Breyer, brother of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, went further in his proposed findings.

The inmates “are regularly verbally, physically, and sexually assaulted, exploited, and discriminated against in California prisons,” he wrote. “Developmentally disabled prisoners are punished for violating prison rules that they do not understand, and are punished at hearings which they cannot comprehend.”

They regularly have their food and property stolen, or give it up to buy protection or help from other inmates. They often lack the help they need with basic hygiene, or with getting routine medical treatment, the judge found.

At one point, Breyer suggested that the state sought to end his oversight “simply because ongoing Court supervision is annoying them.”

Billions of dollars are being spent, and it’s still not enough. Of the 17 prisons expected, only two ‘met the minimum standards for health care.’ Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the biggest areas of failing was in preventative care. The prison environment is stressful and crowded, which tends to increase susceptibility to infectious disease while also making inmates more prone to the development of mental health problems. For intellectually and developmentally disabled inmates, prison conditions are even worse, as many prisons don’t know how to handle these inmates, don’t provide basic services they need, and essentially leave them at the mercy of the general population.

It’s not surprising that HIV, tuberculosis, and hep C infection rates are all on the rise in prisons as a result of poor preventative care and infection control. We should be asking ourselves when it was decided that a prison sentence should also came with an almost certain sentence for developing an infectious and potentially fatal disease, just as we should be asking ourselves why prison rape continues to be tolerated.

Prisoners are not receiving the health care services they need, when they need them. That’s a problem. It’s a problem when the state is imprisoning people in my name, using my tax dollars to fund it, and it can’t even promise me that those people will have access to basic health care services. It can’t promise that the people being imprisoned ‘for public safety’ will be safe themselves in prison, and this is categorically unacceptable. We owe a duty of care to prison inmates, no matter who they are, no matter what crimes they have committed, and prisoner rights is one of the most ignored areas in the human rights community in the United States. The conditions in California’s prisons can be seen elsewhere across the United States, where prisoners die because they can’t access medical care in addition to being raped, exploited, and abused.

The findings of the report on California’s prisons recommend that the most effective way to improve access to health care for California inmates is to reduce the prison population by releasing inmates. Early release has already been promoted to deal with overcrowding as well as budget problems. However, we also need to approach this from the other side; it’s important not just to reduce the prison population, but to put fewer people in prison in the first place. This requires a major overhaul of California’s mandatory sentencing laws and approach to law enforcement, both of which are long overdue.

There are also colossal intersections with race here. Nonwhite people and people of colour are far more likely to be incarcerated in the United States. This is not because members of these communities are more likely to commit crimes, despite the beliefs of some conservatives. It is because they are more likely to be profiled as criminals, more likely to be arrested and prosecuted when a white person would get a warning, more likely to get longer prison sentences, more likely to be convicted. We need to address the racialised dynamics of the ‘justice system’ in the United States to get at the bottom of why so many people are in prison.

I’m glad that the decision to continue court supervision of health services in California prisons was made. It’s clear that the prison system can’t regulate itself or provide the services it is legally and ethically obligated to provide, and I hope the court can compel it to do so. At the same time we work to secure safer and healthier conditions for prisoners now, I want to see a radical shift of the way we handle law enforcement and justice for people in the future.

Slam After Slam For People With Disabilities in California’s New Budget

Does this headline read like deja vu to you? With the global recession is coming a wave of devastating budget cuts for people with disabilities as governments struggle to address funding shortages. Lauredhel just covered the major cuts in Australia’s new budget that impacted people with disabilities, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California recently unveiled a revised budget for California that was nothing short of breathtaking. And not in a good way.

A few highlights:

  • 60% of state funding for local mental health problems is being eliminated.
  • CalWorks, California’s welfare-to-work program, is being severely cut and it’s targeted for a ‘trigger cut,’ meaning that it will be eliminated if California is unable to meet revenue goals.
  • 142,000 low income children are going to be without state-subsidized day care.
  • In-Home Support Services (IHSS), which provides community-based care to people with disabilities and the elderly, is being slashed by one third (it was originally rumoured that it would be targeted for elimination) and it is also slated for a trigger cut. This is going to force many people living independently right now into institutions in addition to eliminating thousands of jobs.
  • The California Food Assistance Program is being eliminated.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for elderly and disabled people is being slashed; the payments provided are already absurdly low.
  • One billion dollars in cuts to health care programs are being proposed.
  • Adult Day Health Care is being eliminated.
  • Programs that provide health services to recent immigrants are being eliminated.
  • Eligibility for some social services is being cut; people at 250% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) who are receiving assistance now will not be receiving it as a result of these cuts, which reduce eligibility to 200% of the FPL. (Just for reference, here are the current poverty guidelines.)
  • Vision benefits are being eliminated from the Healthy Families program.
  • More trigger cuts for homeless youth.
  • ‘Federally optional’ Medi-Cal benefits (physical therapy and medical supplies, for example) are targeted with trigger cuts.

These cuts disproportionately impact some of California’s most vulnerable. Low income families, children, and people with disabilities. The people who are most in need right now are the first to be eliminated from the California budget. I think that says a lot about the priorities in this state. The governor claims that the state ‘no longer has low-hanging fruits’ to suggest that this decision was difficult. I disagree. There were other options.

Over at Calitics, Robert Cruickshank summed things up pretty neatly:

Arnold Schwarzenegger said “the budget should be a reflection of California’s values.” If that’s the case, then California’s values are protecting the wealthy and the large corporations from having to contribute anything to this society while making old people and children suffer. Arnold’s California is a place where if you aren’t wealthy, you don’t deserve to have health, food, or any other form of economic security.

Today’s May Revise should be seen then as the bill for protecting the rich and the large corporations. $19 billion in cuts, particularly to health care for the kids and the elderly, and to the CalWORKS program that helps reduce child poverty, would not be proposed if Arnold Schwarzenegger valued their lives and their economic security. (‘What It’ll Cost California To Protect The Rich‘)

This budget is nothing short of horrific. Really, that’s the only word I can come up with to describe it. It’s taken me this long to write about it because every time I sit down to do so, I question my belief in a just world. And I question my belief in California, a place I have spent most of my life in. This budget runs contrary to everything I believe in, and it’s a pretty stark refutation of what conservatives are fond of calling ‘San Francisco values.’

Those who think that California is a bastion of liberalism, may I present Exhibit A?

The government is very eager to not increase taxes, a pledge it appears to be sticking with in this budget. This means that as the state faces a catastrophic shortfall brought about by decades of fiscal mismanagement, the only way to try and address the problem is to eviscerate the budget.

Meanwhile, prison spending is on the rise because California is incredibly incarceration happy, while the Governor also proposes shifting responsibility for caring for prisoners to local communities, ignoring the fact that they are ill equipped (financially and facilities-wise) to do so. Our prison system is already crowded, support for disabled and chronically ill prisoners is already inadequate, and we propose making conditions in California prisons even worse while slashing community budgets, education, and social services?

These cuts are wrong, not just because they are painful in the short term, but because they will have far-reaching repercussions for California. Growing up in a recession can shape the direction of the rest of your life. Some Californians are literally not going to survive this. Others will find their opportunities and choices limited into the future. They will make less money. They will be less likely to go to college, especially when one combines slashes to education with ever-skyrocketing costs of college attendance.  As abby jean pointed out recently, poverty has health impacts and what California is doing right now is expanding the lower classes and perpetuating poverty.

The Governor’s Revised Budget is not just an offense to human decency. It’s also wrong for California.

Further Reading: