Crime & Justice

Chino prisoner's wife's journal shows problems with prison medical care

Kathryn Williams of Banning closely monitors her husband’s health and intervenes with prison medical authorities to get him better care.

Her husband, Edgar J. Williams, was assigned a top bunk for several days after he was transferred to California Institute for Men in Chino in June. He got that bed despite having a medical file documenting knee and back problems and a doctor's order for a lower bunk, his wife says.

Correctional officers ignored his request for a bottom bunk, so he slept on the floor of his two-man cell for several nights, she says. She kept a journal of his medical issues and provided copies of his prison medical records.

Inmates are not allowed to sleep on the floor, and an inmate whose physical condition kept him from climbing to a top bunk should have told prison staffers he needed a lower bunk, says Terry Thornton, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Beyond complaining to correctional officers, he or a family member could have submitted a written complaint and asked a prison ombudsman to look at his situation, Thornton says.

Williams did complain, but it took days to resolve his problem, says Kathryn Williams.

He verbally complained to guards after sleeping on the floor the first time the night of June 3, and was placed handcuffed into a solitary cell for eight hours the next day, she says.

He was returned to the cell with the upper bunk that night and submitted a written complaint, she says. After at least five nights of sleeping on the floor, he received a lower bunk on June 8, she says.

Correctional officers should have a record of an inmate's disability and adhere to a doctor's recommendation for a lower bunk, says Joyce Hayhoe, spokeswoman for California Prison Health Care Services, the federally-appointed receiver that oversees inmate medical care.

Neither Thornton nor Hayhoe could addresss Williams' case directly due to privacy concerns.

Williams wrote that her husband’s prescription for a pain relief drug expired in early June, and in mid-July he declined to take a substitute drug that a nurse offered until he could see a doctor. When he visited the doctor in late June, the doctor didn’t have his medical files, so nothing was accomplished, she wrote.

He had delays getting examined and treated for an ulcerated colon that was causing him to bleed. He also had long delays getting knee surgery that had been recommended for him, according to Williams’ journal.

“Why do I have to keep writing and calling these people to get them to do their job?” she wrote. “Someone had the time to try and get my husband to take [the substitute drug]. Why not take the time to do it right? There had been a [prescription] in his medical file, for his medications the entire time.

"I am sure that the overcrowded situation compounds these people's confusion," continued Kathryn Williams, "but I am also convinced that they don't give a damn about the prisoners. This is ridiculous. He's been at Chino for over 2 months now, has put in an appeal to the medical appeals division, and yet I'm the one who has to tell these people about the prescription in their file??? Sorry ... I'm really frustrated.”

Hayhoe says that inmates have the right to ask to see a doctor anytime. Nurses in the prison medical system have the authority to review those requests and are required to respond with a decision within one business day. The latest Office of the Inspector General report concluded nurses were complying with that requirement 92 percent of the time, she says.

However, that doesn't mean an inmate will see a doctor immediately. And prison medical records are not yet kept in electronic form, so paper copies, faxes and e-mail notes are used to communicate inmates' medical information, Hayhoe says.

Prison crowding, Hayhoe says, "exacerbates the inability for us to provide the optimum level of care."