Compassion for Lack

California’s over-crowded prisons lack resources to attend adequately to prisoner medical needs. Prop,. 57, which voters approved overwhelmingly, made sense — it’s only humane to release nonviolent prisoners, especially those with urgent medical needs the state cannot meet.

David Lack had skin cancer when he was jailed. He suffered severe abdominal pain last month, resulting in his being sent to Natividad Medical Center. After an endoscopic procedure, he was informed of a malignant tumor which needed surgical removal. Despite this, a judge decided (no doubt influenced by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office), that David needs to stay behind bars.

David has met all requirements under the law to be freed — he served his time. He poses no threat to the community, has been a model prisoner and is exactly the type of inmate that Prop. 57 intended to be released from over-loaded jails.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2014 ruled against a California prisoner who argued that he’d been denied adequate dental care over 18 months, leading to tooth decay and disease. Prison should be punishment, but our Bill of Rights guards against “cruel and unusual punishment.” Isn’t denial of basic medical care — particularly in a cancer victim — both cruel and unusual? The court’s decision may hurt the future ability of prisoners to sue for monetary damages, but when the state fails to provide funds to staff prison medical facilities properly, taxpayers must demand accountability from its public servants, and compassion for nonviolent, truly sick prisoners like David Lack.

(Margaret C. Hemenway is a retired federal official and former Capitol Hill staffer, whose daughter went to college in Santa Barbara. David Lack was kind to her when she was horribly homesick. She has never met, but corresponds with, Lack.)

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