Valley Fever Epidemic, Prison Overcrowding = Death Sentence

On Saturday, August 3rd, 2013, family members and friends of prisoners held a rally to protest the transfers of their loved ones to Pleasant Valley and Avenal state prisons, which have a deadly outbreak of valley fever. This fungal infection has killed over 60 people in California prisons in the last few years and led to amputations of limbs, the removal of parts of the lungs, and other long-term health consequences.

IMG_2116Last-minute text messages and Facebook posts with family members resulted in a group of over 70 people gathering at a park down the street of CSP-Solano on the morning of the rally. Slowly, family members and friends started to arrive and we gathered on the corner of the park, greetings each other, signing in, and picking out signs that read slogans like “Pleasant Valley is a Death Trap” and “No More Valley Fever Deaths.”

We were grounded by personal testimonies from family members and formerly incarcerated people who talked about their loved ones and the potential death sentences caused by these transfers. Two young women played and sang a ukulele song written by their Uncle, who is on the transfer list.

A mother commented to me how she wishes her son could be sent home into her custody instead of Pleasant Valley prison, where she says she could keep him on strict house arrest and save taxpayers thousands of dollars. We marched to the entrance of Solano prison, with passing cars honking in support. About half of the group walked back while the remaining folks continued to chant and show their signs to passing cars on the main road. I experienced conflicting emotions—on the one hand, it was heartening to see a large group of family members and friends come together to do something; at the same time, the numerous stories of loved ones being transferred and the uphill battle to change these policies felt very frustrating.


As a result of a legal case titled “Plata vs. Brown,” a federal judge ordered the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to remove “high-risk” prisoners (including African Americans, Filipinos, and people with certain medical conditions) from Pleasant Valley and Avenal prisons, based in large part on a single study conducted by the American Thoracic Society. While the removal of high-risk prisoners from these two prisons is seen as a positive step, CDCR is replacing these prisoners with whites, Latinos, and “Others,” which includes Asian and Pacific Islanders. Many peer-reviewed research studies show Asians, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, and other people of color are also high-risk for contracting and dying from the disease. The Center for Disease Control categorizes Asians as a high-risk group for valley fever according to its own website. Prisoners who served time at Pleasant Valley prison recently told me that on their yard, about 20 out of 30 Asians had contracted valley fever, with some of them undergoing surgeries to remove parts of their lungs and have an arm amputated due to the valley fever infection.

For many, the bottom line is that people of all ethnic/racial backgrounds are at risk of contracting valley fever. In fact, six years ago court receiver J. Clark Kelso asked California prison officials to relocate ALL inmates from Pleasant Valley and Avenal prisons if the valley fever rates did not drop. Dr. Galgiani, the scientific expert who testified in the federal “Plata vs. Brown” case, commented in The Press-Enterprise Newspaper article that, “The only reasonable public health decision to be made is to cease placing prisoners in Pleasant Valley State Prison and Avenal State Prison altogether.”

Given the Supreme Court mandate to remove 10,000 prisoners from CDCR’s overcrowded system, why can’t we start by removing prisoners from Pleasant Valley and Avenal prisons, instead of keeping them full?

Housing people in facilities with the valley fever epidemic is another example in a long line of human rights abuses by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, including long-term solitary confinement, coerced sterilization of women, and health conditions condemned by the federal government.

Please sign the petition to stop the transfers and shut down Pleasant Valley and Avenal prisons, which is sponsored by family and friends of the prisoners, the Asian Prisoner Support Committee, Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children –

For more info, please contact APSC at apscinfo[at]gmail[dot]com