Sillen Investigating Out-of-State Deaths of Californian Inmates

The court-appointed federal receiver in charge of reforming prison medical care is looking into the deaths of four Californian inmates serving sentences in other states. KPCC's Julie Small reports.

Julie Small: The man in charge of overhauling prison medical care told reporters in Sacramento that his job just got larger. Robert Sillen said his medical staff's looking into the deaths of four California prisoners serving sentences out of state. All died in the last year.

Robert Sillen: We have just received all of the medical records and the information. There are autopsies at least on one of the inmates that's being done. That is not complete yet. So we're keeping an eye on it. We'll do a peer review of the medical care that was provided for each of those individuals, and we'll come to some conclusions.

Small: Sillen's not sure the deaths represent a problem, but he wants to know more. Only one of the four inmates was among the 394 who transferred out of the state to reduce overcrowding in California prisons.

Sillen's medical staff already examines those prisoners before they transfer. Seth Unger, with Department of Corrections, says his agency monitors the prisoners' treatment after the transfer.

Seth Unger: There are medical staff on site, at the out of state facilities that we contract with, for inmates that are under our jurisdiction already. And they already go through screening processes before they are transferred, but they are also screened upon entering the facility and they are closely monitored while they are there for any kind of health problems they might develop while they're out of state.

Small: The other three inmate deaths the federal receiver is reviewing occurred serving dual sentences for crimes committed in California and another state. Six hundred California prisoners fall under that category. California relinquishes custody of these inmates to other state or federal facilities.

But the death of three of them has the federal receiver wondering whether he should be monitoring their medical care as well. Either way, Sillen says he's planning to beef up his staff.

Sillen: We are going to have hire some additional physicians, nurses and custody people to work under our jurisdiction to go to these out-of-state prisons and monitor them and make sure that the inmates are being well taken care of.

Small: The Department of Corrections is planning to transfer 8,000 inmates to other states in the next couple of years.