DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS: Inmates Not Retested After Reports of Falsified Lab Results
State lawmakers and prisoners' rights advocates yesterday called for an investigation into the Department of Corrections after a March San Francisco Chronicle report revealed that corrections officials had failed to retest thousands of inmates whose test results for AIDS, hepatitis and other diseases were allegedly falsified by a medical lab three years ago. State investigators shut down B.C.L. Clinical Labs in 1997 when they found the company was "simply making up results on vital medical tests and typing them into a computer." But according to a new Chronicle report, "little evidence" exists that officials at seven state prisons have since made any attempt to retest prisoners or even notify them of the potentially falsified results. Insisting on "greater oversight" of the corrections department, Assemblywoman Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) said, "We will demand of them a full response and request corrective actions." Geoff Long, chief of staff for the Assembly Appropriations Committee, added that the state's actions could have "serious health consequences not only for the inmates themselves, but also for the general population." He said, "We release 100,000 of these (prisoners) a year. They are not out there wearing little face masks ... If they've got hepatitis or TB, they are spewing them around." Attorney Steve Fama of the not-for-profit Prison Law Office said the controversy is not "particularly surprising," as health care in the state's prisons is "marked by many problems," especially the "lack of follow up." According to Fama, the Department of Corrections' medical staff could be liable for medical malpractice against the inmates "depending upon the harm ... suffered by the patients." He added that if the prisons were "deliberately indifferent," they could face charges of civil rights' violations.
Where's the Proof?
Department of Corrections officials said they are "looking into the matter" and hope to provide documentation of inmates' retests. Department spokesperson Bob Martinez said yesterday that prison physicians "were professional and did whatever was necessary to verify prognoses or concerns about patients" (Wells, San Francisco Chronicle, 7/7). However, the Chronicle reports that a review of records for roughly 12 female inmates shows that only two were retested -- one 13 months after her original HIV test, and another for a thyroid condition but no other illnesses (Russell, 7/6). Martinez said, "There is no record that would absolutely document retesting." However, he added, "I'm confident that they retested, even though they didn't set up a reporting process for that. It was done within each of the inmates' files." Although the Department of Corrections is currently evaluating the "appropriate protocol," Martinez indicated that retesting now would be "very, very difficult." He said, "We're talking thousands and thousands [of inmates]. ... It's a very large, decentralized operation" (San Francisco Chronicle, 7/7).