By OPEC Staff
At the request of the State of California and the plaintiffs, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey S. White has dismissed a 7-year-old lawsuit regarding the level of dental care in California prisons. The motion asked that the case, Perez v. Cate, be dismissed thanks to a system-wide improvement in dental services, as well as physical plant improvements to selected dental departments in California’s prisons.
A key step toward resolving the case was achieved in June with the successful conclusion of dental audits of each of the 33 adult institutions run by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). The audits measured each institution’s dental operations, quality of care and patient safety, with the average pass rate exceeding 98 percent. CDCR is also in the process of renovating some of its dental clinics and construction should be finished by May 2014.
“One of our department’s top priorities is putting an end to the several longstanding lawsuits challenging the adequacy of our inmate health-care system. Today’s news shows that we’re well on our way,” said CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate. “These lawsuits are expensive and burdensome, and our progress is good news for the prison system and the taxpayers of California.”
According to Diana Toche, DDS, director (acting), Division of Correctional Health Care Services, deputy dental director, Statewide Dental Program, “Dismissal of this case is a huge achievement for the State of California. The primary reason we have been successful is because of the hard work and dedication of dental health care staff, as well as the collaborative efforts of all health care and custody staff to provide a constitutionally acceptable level of dental care to inmates.”
CDCR General Counsel Benjamin Rice, said, “Our department is making progress in reclaiming control of our prisons from the federal courts. We’re proud of the successes to date, and look forward to completing this mission.”
The other two major health care lawsuits are Plata (medical care now under federal receivership) and Coleman (mental health care). In Plata, the judge ruled this year that progress in improving prison medical care is to the point where “the end of the receivership is in sight.”
In Coleman, the judge recently commended CDCR and the other parties to the case for the “remarkable accomplishments” in improving access to mental health care in prisons. Settlement discussions are ongoing in both the Plataand Coleman cases.
CDCR has been working for years to improve its health-care facilities and services. Those efforts are greatly helped by the steep drop in prison population and overcrowding as a result of Public Safety Realignment, signed into law last year by Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.
Realignment shifts responsibilities and funding for non-serious, non-violent, non-sex offenders from the state to the counties, which can more effectively sanction and rehabilitate offenders.
Since it was implemented on Oct. 1, 2011, Realignment has reduced the California prison population by approximately 24,000 inmates.