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All California Prisoners Win Upgraded Medical Care

by John E. Dannenberg

On January 25, 2002, the California Department of Corrections (CDC) entered into a settlement in a class action lawsuit that will upgrade medical care for 157,000 prisoners at all 33 California state prisons. Following the recent cluster of deaths of eight female prisoners and persistent complaints dating back 15 years, the settlement requires the state's substandard care to meet minimum requirements of the Eighth Amendment's cruel and unusual punishment clause. The plaintiffs' attorneys said the new approach should address one of the biggest complaints - the state's failure to monitor prisoners with chronic illnesses. Phased in over seven years, the expected annual costs will grow from $21 million in the first year to $122 million by the seventh year.

Filed under 42 USC § 1983, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (RA), the US District Court (ND Calif.) class action lawsuit not only requires specific performance but also sets forth auditing procedures and quarterly tours at each institution by plaintiff's counsel and court appointed medical consultants. The audit process shall require visiting of housing units and medical facilities, and shall include reviews of prisoner administrative appeals (Form 602), management logs, medical transfer records, medical staff training, medical staff vacancies, summaries of emergency responses, emergency drill reports and death reports.

Beginning January 1, 2003, each institution shall staff the emergency clinics with registered nurses 24 hours per day. Protocols for inter-prison transfers shall be implemented, as well as treatment protocols and a priority ducating system. Special diets shall be provided for prisoners with liver and kidney end-stage organ failure. After Form 602 grievances have been exhausted, if a prisoner is still not satisfied, he/she may bring the matter to the attention of counsel for resolution within 30 days.

The calendar year implementation schedule-is-as follows:

2003: Northern CA Women's Facility; Valley State Prison for Women; CA State Prison - Corcoran; High Desert State Prison; CA State Prison - Sacramento; Salinas Valley State Prison.

2004: CA Correctional Institution; Mule Creek State Prison; San Quentin State Prison; Substance Abuse Treatment Facility; CA State Prison - Solano.

2005: Centinela State Prison; CA Institute for Men; CA Men's Colony; CA Medical Facility; North Kern State Prison - II.

2006: CA Rehabilitation Center; Deuel Vocational Center; Folsom State Prison; CA State Prison - Los Angeles County; Pleasant Valley State Prison.

Pelican Bay State Prison is excluded from this agreement and CA Institution for Women and Central CA Women's Facility might be excluded - pending resolution regarding prior litigation at these facilities.

The level of medical care shall either be consistent with adopted policies and procedures, or with community standards in the event no treatment guidelines have been specifically adopted. "Community standard" is defined to mean the standard of care imposed by California law upon its licensed health care providers.

Termination of the agreement is permitted (notwithstanding the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) or any other law) to be sought by motion of the State to vacate and dismiss the case on the grounds that each prison has been found to be in substantial compliance, as specified in the Stipulation.

The State agreed to pay plaintiffs' attorney fees for the work performed in connection with the Stipulation - 90% at the PLRA rate (42 USC § 1997e(d)) and 10% at the ADA and §504 RA rates. The plaintiffs were represented by Donald Specter of the Prison Law Office, San Quentin, CA. See: Marciano Plata v. Gray Davis, et al., USDC (ND Cal.) No. C-01-1351 T.EH (Stipulation for Injunctive Relief, Jan. 25, 2002).

Additional Source: Los Angeles Times

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Related legal case

Plata v. Davis