Capitol Alert Insider Edition

Insider Access - Exclusive content for the Insider Edition iPad and iPhone apps

Note: Capitol Alert Insider Edition stories are for the exlusive use of subscribers of the service. You can subscribe with your iPhone or iPad in the App Store.
June 18, 2013
Editorial: Valley fever is too deadly for delays

RCB_20120301_REALIGN_ 0024.JPG

(June 18 -- By the Editorial Board)

Whatever crimes they committed, the inmates at two state prisons in the San Joaquin Valley weren't given death sentences. Yet state officials' sluggish response to a continuing outbreak of valley fever is putting prisoners at an unacceptable risk of serious illness, even death.

A lawyer for the inmates told a federal judge Monday that last year and in January, 18 inmates died from complications of valley fever, caused by a fungus in the soil that is carried by dust. That brings the toll since 2006 to nearly three dozen deaths and hundreds of hospitalizations.

The Prison Law Office is supporting an order by J. Clark Kelso, appointed by a federal court to oversee prison medical care, that 3,250 of the 8,100 inmates at Pleasant Valley prison in Coalinga and at nearby Avenal prison be moved out immediately. Most are in minimum- and medium-security lockup.

While it plans to finish transferring about 600 medically high-risk inmates by August, the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is balking at the bigger relocation while federal health experts finish a study on how to reduce valley fever at the two prisons. A preliminary report is due later this month, with a full report in December.

But how many inmates or staff might be infected in the meantime?

The issue is before U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson. His first duty is clear - he must protect the health of prisoners and guards.

That should trump the arguments made by the Brown administration that it would be too complicated to relocate so many inmates when it still is under another federal court order to reduce prison crowding statewide to help improve health care for inmates.

The corrections department also says it has not been "deliberately indifferent" to what it calls the "evasive" problem of valley fever. It has upgraded air filters, tested and stabilized soil, handed out dust masks and educated inmates and staff.

Clearly, though, it hasn't been enough. What's more troubling is that the department has known about this problem since at least 2006. Now, the state is spending more than $23 million a year to treat prisoners for valley fever.

This is a major public health issue for everyone who lives and works in the valley. There has been an alarming rise in cases, to more than 5,500 in 2011. While most infections lead at worst to mild to severe flu-like symptoms, a few spread from the lungs to the brain, causing blindness, abscesses and, sometimes, death. Blacks, Filipinos, the elderly and those with other medical issues are more susceptible.

The department says a large transfer would be a logistical nightmare. To avoid overcrowding other prisons, a roughly equal number would have to move to Pleasant Valley and Avenal - and they couldn't be in the higher risk groups. Officials would also have to make sure each inmate's new prison has the services he needs but doesn't have an enemy or rival gang.

All are legitimate concerns, but the most urgent danger is to the health of inmates and staff at Pleasant Valley and Avenal. Judge Henderson needs to make sure the state gets that message.

On October 14, The Sacramento Bee will temporarily remove commenting from sacbee.com. While we design the upgrade, we encourage you to tell us what you like and don't like about commenting on sacbee.com and other websites. We've heard from hundreds of you already and we're listening. Please continue to add your thoughts and questions here. We also encourage you to write Letters to the Editor on this and other topics.



FOLLOW US | Get more from sacbee.com | Follow us on Twitter | Become a fan on Facebook | Watch Bee news, lifestyle videos | View our mobile versions | e-edition: Print edition online | What our bloggers are saying

November 2013

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30