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Public Safety

Life in Prison: A Look Inside The California Medical Facility


To anyone approaching the gates, the California Medical Facility (CMF) in Vacaville looks like your average prison. It is surrounded by cyclone, barbed wire fencing monitored by guards and a watch tower. But once inside, it becomes clear this prison population is different. In a waiting area, four elderly men sit in wheelchairs; one is slumped over sleeping. It could be a scene from a typical nursing home, if it weren't for the prison jumpsuits the men are wearing. Other prisoners move throughout the building in wheelchairs and use canes. Some look weak and shuffle slowly down the corridor.

CMF is the primary location for delivering heath care services to elderly and sick prisoners in the California prison system. The prison has a medical unit and a 17-bed, state-licensed hospice. As the elderly inmate population continues to grow, due to determinate sentencing and three strike laws, so too have the health care needs of California's incarcerated. Last year, it cost the state $1.9 billion to provide health care to the prison population, which is almost 20 percent of the entire corrections budget.

The Project Envision documentary, "Life in Prison," will air Jan. 25 at 9 p. m. on KPBS Television.