SAN FRANCISCO — Correctional News and Trussbilt Security Products sponsored a presentation at the San Francisco chapter of the American Institute of Architects in June to discuss AB 900 and the new California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) health care facility being built outside Stockton, Calif.
The new prison medical facility will help California provide “constitutionally adequate health care” to more than 17,000 resident inmates and help ease overcrowding in the state’s prisons, said Bob Glass, a planning consultant hired by CDCR and the receiver.
According to Glass, an average of 1.5 inmates died every week in California prisons during the mid-2000s from a lack of health care. Development of the California Healthcare Facility, Stockton “stemmed from a lot of lawsuits” filed by prisoners protesting the overcrowded conditions and the lack of health care facilities that they alleged led to those deaths, said Glass.
“Our task was to devise the space that care could be provided in,” Glass said. “This facility is trying to provide the space to do it, but it is still up to staff and the CDCR to determine what that is.”
The state hired the country’s eight leading corrections architects and four leading contractors to develop the facility, said Glass.
California’s aging prison population has made the provision of health care in its facilities an urgent concern. Lengthened sentences and few parole grants for lifers have made age-related diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, more prevalent, augmenting the amount of medical care and treatment space necessary to treat inmates.
California budgets $2 billion per year on health care, and $500 million of that is spent on sending inmates to public hospitals, Glass noted. “This facility will allow us to treat acutely ill inmates for the first time in a state setting,” he said.
Concerns about whether there are enough nurses and psychiatric technicians to staff the Stockton facility are prevalent. Glass acknowledged a “huge need” but stressed that the state is expanding medical training programs to fill it. “Everyone is scrambling to meet the judges’ orders. I think we’re on track to do it.”
Now that the Stockton facility will serve as the state’s main prison hospital, California has developed a medical classification system for its inmates with the aim of moving them to those facilities best equipped to treat their individual needs, said Glass.
Officials looked at the state’s 33 prisons to determine what type and how much health care they could provide in order to develop the classification system. Stockton, which will house the sickest inmates, sits at the top of the system. Eleven other facilities equipped to treat less acutely ill inmates comprise the second tier, while healthier inmates will be housed in the 22 facilities that make up the third tier.
“We looked at the institutions to determine how best to meet inmates’ medical and mental health needs,” said Glass. “Inmates will be moved around based on needs. We’re already classifying inmates, and there will be a lot of moving [of prisoners] between now and 2013.”
“It really starts with this big facility to be able to start adjusting the population,” said Glass. “We spent almost four years getting to this point.”
Small, stand-alone mental health care units will also be built to assist the institutions in the second tier, Glass added.
“California is unique,” said Glass. “I wonder what the other 49 states are going to think?”
A receiver was appointed in 2006 to oversee California’s efforts to satisfy a federal court order to improve its prison medical services, and the Stockton contract was initiated in 2007. In May, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California must release 30,000 prisoners to ease overcrowding and regain the ability to provide adequate health care, but officials say they don’t believe the reduction in the inmate population will ease the need for additional treatment space.
People keep asking me, “was it worth it?” said Glass. “From my standpoint, it was well worth it.”
The last time California built a prison hospital was in the mid-1950s.
Chuck Oraftik, senior vice president and co-director justice in HOK’s San Francisco office, delivered a presentation on the Contra Costa County Richard E. Arnason Justice Center. The new full-service courthouse features an adjoining pavilion that can be used for community activities after hours and was designed to control sun exposure year-round.