Several years ago when a huge controversy broke out over lethal injection, a human rights activist was asked, “Why should we care if a convicted murderer should feel any pain when getting lethal injection?”
The activist replied, “Because we are supposed to be more civil than them.”
In the showdown between the City of Camarillo and Federal Receiver J. Clark Kelso over replacing Camarillo’s juvenile detention facility with a prison hospital, it appears the real losers are and have always been the prisoners.
Understanding fully that all prisoners have been convicted of doing ill directly or indirectly toward other human beings, it does not mean we can ignore our constitutional responsibility to prohibit cruel and unusual punishment.
And by proclaiming profusely, “We support better health care, but not in my backyard;” we are saying, “We won’t care for these prisoners.”
Our society has to work collectively to better itself. If we say we can’t support a better health care system for prisoners in a designated place, then we are saying we won’t support a better health care system here.
Thus far, three sites for prison hospitals have been chosen: San Diego, Camarillo and Stockton. Strategically speaking, the sites are placed within a few hours traveling distance from major cities across the state, making it easy for family members to visit. So the argument that a prison hospital has no place in Ventura County falls on its face.
Making the decision about what is right for our community and right for the prisoners has been an arduous task for officials, to say the least. But it’s not helping that between Kelso’s camp and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, none of the facts are coming out clearly.
In a string of articles published by the Ventura County Star and the VC Reporter, reports from Kelso and his spokesman, Luis Patino, and Oscar Hidalgo, spokesman for the Department of Corrections, come across not only confusing and conflicting, but also contradictory.
July 10: In the VC Reporter: “Rumors about prison hospital dispelled”
Patino said 50 percent of the patients would have “mobility problems and physical ailments.” He told the Reporter that the other 50 percent classified as mentally ill would not be a threat to the community, i.e. not schizophrenic murderers, death row inmates nor sex predators.
Hidalgo phoned in about the article requesting a clarification, saying they had no plans to shut down the juvenile facility in Camarillo because the juvenile population had, in fact, been increasing, which was published online at www.vcreporter.com. Although that was true, the population of the female wards had actually been decreasing steadily over the last couple of years from 136 females in Dec. 2006 to 84 today.
Hidalgo also said the department had no plans to close the facility, pointing out the importance of keeping juveniles within a short distance of their parents during rehabilitation. When questioned about where the male wards went when the department was forced to close the facilities in Stockton and Paso Robles to carry out Gov. Schwarzenegger’s prison plan, he said they were moved to Camarillo, contradicting the fact the department advocates juveniles staying close to home.
July 11: In the Ventura County Star: “Prison facility plans to go forward”
Staff writer, Timm Herdt, reported the patients would have physical and mental health conditions, of which Patino told the Reporter the mentally ill patient population would make up half of the total and they would be mentally ill, not criminally mentally ill.
Herdt also reported that the youth facility currently holds 150 female wards, which again, was inaccurate according to Hidalgo.
July 16: In the Ventura County Star: “Delegation upbeat about meeting with prison care receiver”
Kelso said he included the Camarillo site because he believed the state’s long-range plan was to close the youth facility to carry out Schwarzenegger’s prison plan, which was the primary reason Kelso chose that site in the first place. Declining female population was to blame.
An officer at the Camarillo facility also said some of the inmates at the Camarillo juvenile detention center have been categorized as a Level 1, meaning they have committed a murder.
Patino said the young and healthy pose more of a threat to the community than the physically debilitated or mentally ill inmates that would be held at the prison hospital.
Then we get Audra Strickland’s column in the Star July 20, which points out that running a prison hospital will be a drain on the private medical industry.
Using that logic, a teacher who works for a private school will flee their position and run to public education. And those who have a private practice or work in the hospitals in Ventura County will also flee their positions and work for the prison.
The real problem here is no matter what the facts are, the City of Camarillo has decided the prison hospital would only pose a threat to their community. Before we decide the prison hospital in Camarillo isn’t right, maybe we should wait until they give us information that isn’t contradictory.
After all, this is about human beings that have been overlooked and treated so poorly that health care delivery within the prison system has been deemed to be cruel and unusual punishment by the U.S. Supreme Court. Maybe compromising what we fear with what we know to be right — being civilized — should take precedent when voting for or against the prison hospital.