NY bill will improve health care, monitor prison staffing levels
The proposed legislation will require state officials to study health care staffing in prisons and issue a report on the issue twice each year
By Reuven Blau
New York Daily News
NEW YORK — Prisoner health care must be significantly improved and staffing levels should be regularly monitored, a state lawmaker said Monday following reports of horrific medical abuses that led to 50 deaths over the past five years.
State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) will introduce legislation to give the state Department of Health more oversight power over prisoner medical treatment. Currently, medical treatment is largely handled internally by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
“People in prison and jail, sort of by definition, are not looked at kindly by most New Yorkers,” Gottfried said. “We also have to realize they are human beings. They are in our custody, and we have a constitutional obligation to protect their health, whether they have done wrong or not.”
The Daily News on Monday reported that a state medical review board concluded 50 prisoner deaths may have been prevented had they gotten better health care.
Commission of Correction review panels repeatedly criticized prison medical staff for failing to complete basic checkups and mental health screenings. In multiple cases, doctors and nurses totally discounted prisoner complaints until they were too serious, according to the death probes.
Gottfried’s proposed legislation will also require state officials to study health care staffing in prisons and issue a report on the issue twice each year.
The number of health care practitioners employed by the department shrank by 3%, according to DOCCS. Some doctors are in charge of 500 or more prisoners.
“I think today it is all too easy to ignore inadequate staffing in prisons and jails particularly relating to health care,” Gottfried said. “If DOCCS and the Health Department are required to study and report on it that gets us a lot closer to dealing responsibility with it.”
The legislation was introduced last year but failed to pass the Assembly after it got stuck in the Codes Committee. The bill would also have likely gotten voted down in the GOP-controlled State Senate.
Gottfried believes the Democratic takeover of the Senate will lead to its passing.
In 2009, Gottfried and former State Sen. Thomas Duane passed a similar measure requiring the Department of Health to “conduct annual reviews of HIV and Hepatitis C care” in correctional facilities. That bill, which was signed by former Gov. David Paterson, has been hailed as a success by prison advocates.