SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) â€” The federal receiver who controls medical care in California prisons on Monday ordered thousands of high-risk inmates out of two Central Valley prisons in response to dozens of deaths due to valley fever, which is caused by an airborne fungus.
Medical receiver J. Clark Kelso ordered the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to exclude black, Filipino and other medically risky inmates from the two prisons because they are more susceptible to the fungal infection, which originates in the region’s soil.
High-risk inmates include those who are sick, infected with the HIV virus, are undergoing chemotherapy or otherwise have a depressed immune system. In addition to the deaths, the fungus has hospitalized hundreds of inmates.
The order will affect about 40 percent of the more than 8,200 inmates in Avenal and Pleasant Valley state prisons, said Joyce Hayhoe, a spokeswoman for the receiver’s office.
“The state of California has known since 2006 that segments of the inmate population were at a greater risk for contracting Valley fever, and mitigation efforts undertaken by CDCR to date have proven ineffective,” she said in an emailed statement. “As a result, the receiver has decided that immediate steps are necessary to prevent further loss of life.”
That creates problems for the corrections department, which faces a December court deadline to reduce overcrowding in prisons statewide by an additional 9,000 inmates. The inmate reduction is part of a federal court order to improve medical and mental health care.
“To implement this policy directive would be a big undertaking, and we’re reviewing it,” corrections department spokesman Jeffrey Callison said in response to the receiver’s order.