Lawyers representing inmates at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Fresno County and Avenal State Prison in Kings County filed a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court Tuesday.
The suit is on behalf of black, elderly, and immune-compromised inmates who acquired valley fever since July 2009, while serving time at the two institutions.
The complaint alleges that state and prison officials knew these groups were at high-risk of contracting the serious, potentially fatal form of the disease, but failed to take adequate steps to protect them.
The suit contends that officials violated these inmates’ constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment, equal protection and disparate treatment.
Jason Feldman is one of the lawyers who filed the suit. He says the complaint seeks compensation for inmates sickened by valley fever, and lifelong access to medical care after they’re released from prison.
He says inmates were convicted of a crime but, “they didn’t buy in for a chronic illness that will never go away, that could kill them, and greatly affects their quality of life.”
This isn’t the first time the courts will be considering the impact of valley fever on area inmates.
Last summer, the U.S. government, while admitting no fault, agreed to a $425,000 settlement with a former inmate who acquired the disease while serving time at the Taft Correctional Institution in Kern County.
And last month, a federal judge ordered the state prison system to comply with an order to remove inmates at high-risk of contracting the serious form of valley fever from Pleasant Valley and Avenal state prisons.