Criminal InJustice† is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Criminal InJustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm CST.
Prison Health Care as Punishment
by Kay Whitlock with introduction by nancy a heitzeg
Misrepresentations of the realities of prison life abound. These are a constant staple of media and public conversation, including unfounded claims that inmates are leading some sort of life of luxury, lifting weights, watching plasma TVs, dining finely and seeking college educations at the expense of taxpayers.
And this — California Inmates Get Better Health Care than Ordinary Citizens: Thanks to Justice Anthony Kennedy, California prisoners have easier access to health care than ordinary citizens.
Those convicted of “non-non-non crimes”–non-serious, non-violent, non-sex related–are liable to get early release as a result of the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling that the state must reduce prison overcrowding in order to provide adequate medical, mental and dental health care.
Petty thieves and the like can get freed and have no more claim to health care than an honest citizen.
Killers, rapists, and armed robbers, on the other hand, are free of health-care worries until they make parole, if they ever do.
The court ruled 5-4 that the absence of adequate care for prisoners violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The majority decision was written by Kennedy.
In an added twist, J. Clark Kelso, the overseer of California’s effort to comply with the order was a law clerk to Kennedy in the early 1980’s. He says that he gets the same question wherever he goes: “How come we’re giving felons better health care than I get?”
Well, we aren’t. California has yet to dramatically reduce over-crowding, often shuffling inmates out of state-run prisons to county jails, and despite some efforts to comply with the Supreme Court order, questions still remain as to what standards California is using to define “adequate care”. In addition, the intolerable conditions of SHU confinement recently lead to a series of on-going prisoner hunger strikes and related deaths at Pelican Bay and elsewhere.
Hardly a “health care” paradise.
The reality of prison health care – throughout the nation — is one of neglect, denial f treatment and untimely death.
In response to the false picture presented by The Daily Beast and others, CI is re-publishing a piece which outlines the on-going limitations of the oxymoron called “prison health care”.