Inmates ordered removed from prisons with valley fever outbreaks

Pleasant Valley State Prison

Pleasant Valley State Prison, where a federal judge on Monday ordered African American inmates and others at risk of valley fever to be moved. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation / June 24, 2013)

By Paige St. JohnJune 24, 2013, 6:50 p.m.

California has lost another federal court decision: a judge on Monday ordered the state to move inmates at risk of contracting valley fever out of two prisons afflicted with the deadly fungus.

The order late Monday by U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson gives the state seven days to begin the transfers and 90 days to complete them. Several thousand inmates, including African Americans, Filipinos and those with diabetes and HIV, are covered by the order affecting Pleasant Valley and Avenal state prisons.

No new inmates who are considered at-risk are to be sent to the two prisons.

Valley fever is caused by a soil-born fungus frequently found in arid regions of California’s Central Valley. Most of those who contract the illness experience only mild flu-like symptoms, but in some individuals, especially African Americans, it can spread through and ravage the body.

Henderson’s order is critical of the state’s handling of valley fever outbreaks within its prisons, during which 36 prisoners with the fever have died over the last six years. The judge’s order says California officials “clearly demonstrated their unwillingness to respond adequately to the healthcare needs of California’s inmate population.” Henderson adds that is “particularly ironic given Defendants’ insistence in other court filings that they are now providing a constitutional level of care.”

Inmates who already have been found to have valley fever are exempted from the transfer order.

State officials had no immediate projection of how many inmates might be moved, but an earlier, broader order from the prison system’s medical receiver had been estimated to cover about 3,200 prisoners.

The state already is in the process of moving 600 medically high-risk inmates out of the prisons, including those with end-stage liver disease and cancer with chemotherapy.

Lawyers for the state had argued that it would be better to take no action until completion of a review by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, not expected for six months. Henderson said waiting “would be unreasonable” and that the CDC evaluation in any case would be “unlikely to have any short-term effect” on inmate health.


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