Commentary: Sickness in Jail

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, July 14, 2006

The grand jury report confirms many of the same problems colleagues of mine at the Sacramento Bee identified in a special report six months ago.

Grand jurors cite a critical shortage of nurses. Last May, 18 of 49 jail nursing positions were vacant, a shocking 37%, up from the usual 30% vacancy rate. A nationwide shortage of nurses explains it in part, but poor pay compounds the problem. Jail nurses earn $46,000 a year compared to nurses in state prisons who bring home closer to $80,000 annually.

But it’s more than just pay. Sacramento's jail nurses complain about lack of safety. One veteran nurse told supervisors last week that a male nurse was assaulted twice by inmates at the main jail and another was trapped in a small office. That's inexcusable, and scary.

The drug dispensing system is also antiquated. The sheriff promised to get the system computerized two years ago, but he hasn’t done it yet. Why?

Fixing health care at the jail is not about coddling criminals. Neglect is costly. When an inmate's health deteriorates to a crisis point it can require expensive emergency room visits. And we - taxpayers - pick up the tab.


Ginger Rutland writes for the Sacramento Bee Opinion pages.