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Federal Healthcare Receiver Investigates Out-of-State Deaths of Transferred California Prisoners, but Does His Authority Follow Them?

by John E. Dannenberg

The federal court-appointed Receiver for California?s prison healthcare system is investigating the deaths of four prisoners who were transferred to out-of-state facilities, but stopped short of declaring the deaths suspicious or negligent. His concern is heightened because the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is presently engaged in selectively shipping 8,500 foreign national prisoners to privately-run facilities around the country in order to meet federal court demands to reduce the state?s overcrowded prison system.

Court-appointed Receiver Robert Sillen, who has since been replaced, spoke at the Sacramento Press Club in July 2007 and called three of the four out-of-state prisoner deaths ?not quite natural.? He said his staff was reviewing the prisoners? medical files to determine if their deaths were preventable. The prisoners died in Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee and an undisclosed location under the federal witness protection program.

However, it is not clear whether prisoners transferred out-of-state due to overcrowding, who are typically housed at private facilities, are covered under the protections of the Plata v. Schwarzenegger prison healthcare receivership. If they are, that might create a conflicting two-tier program for healthcare delivery: the profit-driven substandard care typical of private prisons and the federal constitution-dictated standard of care provided under the Receiver. Recently-enacted California Penal Code § 11191(4) expressly provides that prisoners with serious physical or mental illnesses may be excluded from involuntary transfers if their condition or scheduled medical treatment qualifies.

But one thing remains certain. The size of the CDCR?s out-of-state population will continue to grow as California attempts to palm off its prison overcrowding problem on the backs of foreign-national prisoners. Over 400 of the planned 8,500 foreign nationals had already been shipped to other states as of September 2007.

Sources: Associated Press,

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