Four inmates have filed federal civil rights lawsuits alleging that California prison officials knowingly exposed them to the fungal infection known as “valley fever.”
Valley fever is an infection that develops when people breathe in Coccidioides fungal spores. Such spores are found in higher levels in the Central Valley. In 2011, 42.6 cases per 100,000 people have been reported in states where the disease has become epidemic. According to health officials, California has about 31 percent of the cases.
According to the Fresno Bee, one lawsuit states in part, “The American system of criminal justice requires that state correctional authorities carry out the exact sentence determined by the judicial process – no more and no less. Instead, Defendants knowingly imposed on plaintiffs a lifelong, crippling, and sometimes fatal disease in addition to their lawfully determined sentences.”
|“42.6 cases per 100,000 people have been reported in states where the disease has become epidemic”|
The lawsuits name the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, various state officials and various wardens as defendants.
The lawsuits state that studies show that Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asians, particularly Filipinos, are especially susceptible to contracting valley fever.
The Fresno Bee reports that attorneys for the inmates say health officials have known about the risks of valley fever in the Central Valley for more than 50 years.
Though declining to comment on the specific litigation, prisons spokesman Luis Patino stated, “CDCR has been working to mitigate valley fever for years. We have put in place numerous measures in our prisons to reduce the amount of dust, and the movement of dust, particularly into buildings. We have also moved inmates deemed at higher risk and who choose to move out of the two prisons in the valley fever endemic zone.”
Since 2005, 70 inmates died as a result of valley fever, said Jason Feldman, one of the attorneys filing lawsuits.
In a response to court-ordered action, over 2,100 inmates have been transferred from Central Valley state prisons.