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Court experts pass Sierra prison, pending improvements

March 27, 2013|By Paige St. John
  • Federal experts give a possible passing grade to Sierra Conservation Center in Tuolumne County, pending building improvements.
Federal experts give a possible passing grade to Sierra Conservation Center… (California Department…)

Federal experts on Tuesday gave a potentially passing grade to the inmate medical care provided at a California prison in Tuolumne County, the third state prison to get such a review, despite lapses in care and the suspected carbon monoxide poisoning death of an inmate firefighter.

The latest evaluation concludes the Sierra Conservation Center will be providing adequate medical care once planned building improvements are made. The prison was inspected by experts working for the U.S. District Court, which is monitoring inmate care statewide. The judge ordered that California can't regain full control of medical services until prisons pass inspections by the court's own experts.

The prison provides training for inmates headed to state firefighting prison camps. It was designed to hold 3,736 inmates but had 4,743 when visited by court experts, a 127% occupancy rate that made it one of the state's least-crowded prison facilities.

Despite commending Sierra Conservation Center staff for improved conditions, the court experts said their own findings "were not consistent" with the recent 100% compliance score the prison received from the state Office of Inspector General.

The team noted problem areas at the center still exist: patients with chronic diseases did not always receive timely or adequate care, and abnormal lab findings were not always followed up "in a timely manner."

One 53-year-old inmate with liver cancer waited seven months from discovery of the mass to see a specialist, by which time the tumor was deemed too big to treat. And in August, a 44-year-old inmate died after a 36-hour shift on an active fire line, with symptoms the experts said were consistent with carbon monoxide poisoning. They have recommended further review of that death.

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