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Central California Women’s Prison Criticized for Inadequate Medical Care

by Derek Gilna

A 57-page report issued under the auspices of a federal district court in Plata v. Brown strongly criticizing the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) has highlighted the problems that the overcrowded California prison system has experienced in providing proper medical care to those under their custody and control.  Prisoners at CCWF have cited numerous examples of misdiagnosis and indifferent medical treatment that they constitute a serious threat to prisoners’ health.

Teresa Martinez was diagnosed with AIDS while at Central California and put on a rigorous anti-HIV drug regimen for ten years.   She was eventually transferred to yet another California state prison facility where she was administered a second HIB test, which came back negative, as did the next test.

Martinez was incredulous that she had been misdiagnosed and forced to undergo the grueling and totally unnecessary medical treatment. Now employed by the Oakland-based prisoner rights group, “Justice Now,” she feels that the reason that she was administered the expensive drugs by CCWF was that fact that the prison had a contract with a drug company that sold the HIV medications.  Martinez and others feel that the evidence clearly shows that corporate-driven interests rather than patient care adversely influenced not only her treatment by also the treatment given other prisoners in the California state prison system.

That system is currently operating under oversight by order of the federal district court, which mandates that California reduce its prisoner population, partially in response to documented instances of poor medical care.  Last year,  a three-person panel of court-appointed medical experts said that CCWF “is not providing adequate medical care, and …there are systemic issues resulting in preventable morbidity and mortality (disease and death) that present an ongoing serious risk of harm to patient.”

The report noted that one of CCWF’s problems is that it is at 184 percent of capacity, and as a result, according to the medical experts who wrote the federal court’s report, is that prison medical staff is often stretched too thin to respond promptly to medical emergencies.

Former CCWF prisoner Miata McKnight strongly agrees.  According to McKnight, “I would assume that during an emergency you would run toward the emergency, but no, 95 percent of the time they walk-stroll.”  According to the same report and the testimony of other prisoners, CCWF medical staffers routinely prescribe expire, incorrect, or insufficient medication.  “You go in and say, ‘I don’t feel well because (of) XYZ.’  They’ll give you a cold-pack and you may have a migraine.”  Prisoners, she said, “were also given the wrong medication at times-kind of like test this and see if it works and if it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else.”

McKnight, who now works with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, also said, “I would like to see people have the opportunity to have a better quality of life.  And not have them have a slow death sentence as a result of not being taken care of.  It’s corrections, but it’s not meant to be cruel and unusual punishment.  And sometimes that’s what it turns into.”

See: “Women Decry Deplorable Conditions in State Prison,” by Andrea Abi-Karam,

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