Framework

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Inmates return to their cells after showering in a cellblock at Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy. Built in 1953, the prison houses more than 3,700 convicts in a facility designed for about 1,700.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A prison guard locks an inmate into a cage to await treatment in the medical ward of Deuel Vocational Institution. After six years and billions of dollars, federal oversight of California's prison healthcare system is ending.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A mesh-and-glass window marks a boundary of inmate access in the medical ward of Deuel Vocational Institution.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A prison guard escorts an inmate through a construction area to get to the medical ward at Deuel Vocational Institution for treatment of facial cuts from a fight with another prisoner.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Amputee George Cooper, 45, peers out from his cell in the medical ward of Deuel Vocational Institution. After six years and billions of dollars, federal oversight of California's prison healthcare system is ending.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A prison guard walks the halls as inmate patient George Cooper looks out the window of his cell in the medical ward of Deuel Vocational Institution.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

An inmate receives dental care at the Deuel Vocational Institution. The prison's medical facilities are housed in antiquated buildings built more than 57 years ago, and converted storerooms serve as offices and clinics.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A clinician takes an inmate's vital signs at Deuel Vocational Institution, which primarily serves as a reception and processing center for prisoners new to the California penal system.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Richard Smith, a 60-year-old heroin addict and inmate at Deuel Vocational Institution, airs frustration at not being able to get proper treatment for his addiction within the walls of the California Department of Corrections prison system.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Deuel Vocational Institution was built in 1953 and currently houses more than 3,700 convicts in a facility designed for about 1,700. It serves as a reception center for new inmates of the California Department of Corrections prison system, and has a reputation for inmate violence. Deuel also has some of the most woefully inadequate prisoner healthcare facilities in the CDC system.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

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At Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, inmates are examined in a sparsely equipped room once used for receiving packages. Drugs are sorted in a converted arsenal, and a closet became a nurses’ office. One of the prison’s dental chairs is crammed into an office with two desks and no sink.

The prison’s chief medical officer, Michael Kim, said a recent power outage forced pharmacists to throw out some drugs as they struggled to keep the refrigerator running.

“We’re like a duct-tape institution,” Kim said.

The care in California’s overcrowded lockups was so poor that in 2006 a federal judge, saying an inmate was dying unnecessarily every week, put a receiver in charge of the health system. A cascade of court decisions that followed forced the state to begin lowering the country’s largest state prisoner population by almost 25%.

“Many of the goals of the receivership have been accomplished,” U.S. District Judge Thelton E. Henderson wrote last month, ordering up a plan for transferring control back to the state.

But advocates for inmates and some medical officials question whether the system will continue to improve without federal oversight. Many of California’s 33 prisons, like Deuel Vocational Institution, are still stuck with outdated or cramped facilities.

1 Comment

  1. February 21, 2012, 3:10 pm

    This is an excellent piece, thank you for your great work. My fiance is in this very prison, and the dire conditions he lives in are inhumane. The water system needs overhauling, and someone needs to test it for not only chemicals, but sewage and other contaminates as well. At one point, water was unavailable to inmates for 18 hours, and then when turned on, ran out of the taps dark brown and black, and made several people ill. Temporary fixes will not remedy the many deficits this facility in particular suffers from. We are supposed to be a humane, life respecting society and yet we send people to live (survive) in places like DVI. I am well aware that some would argue that inmates deserve to live in conditions such as these, and it's their own fault ,etc.,etc. Regardless of anyone's opinion, these men are sent there to live, and as such the facility should be LIVABLE. I'm talking about basic , clean, usable amenities, and access to good medical and mental health care. These men are someone's loved one. I'm sure that if the governor suddenly found himself with a loved one on the inside, things would change. I know my fiance can take care of himself but I still worry about harm coming to him, I didn't think the "harm" would be the place itself. Sadly I worry because he was so healthy going in, and may not be ,coming out.

    By: Jenni

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