Matthew Collazo, an inmate at the Harris County jail, has a series of bumps under his skin that are troubling him. He wants to see an outside doctor to make sure he is healthy, and needs his medical records from the jail. He asked for them in writing, but officials wouldn't give 'em up.
Collazo's mother, Julie, obtained power of attorney over her son, and asked the jail again for her son's records. Still, the jail wouldn't budge. Then, after recording a conversation with a jail clinic supervisor, who told Julie Collazo that "as long as [an inmate is] in our custody, the parent, the family member, not even the inmate himself can have a copy of the records," she hired civil rights attorney Randall Kallinen to help.
Kallinen recently filed a lawsuit in Houston federal court against Sheriff Adrian Garcia and the county seeking to get the medical records.
"This shows Harris County's arrogance in not following the law with regard to the release of medical records," Kallinen tells Hair Balls. "The law is very clear that inmates have the right at the very least to view their medical records and relatives with power of attorney have the right to gain access to a copy of them. So basically, they're just violating the law."
Sheriff's spokesman Keir Murray says it is the jail's policy not to release medical records to the inmate or a relative, but if the prisoner signs a release, the jail will give the records to the inmate's attorney. Murray says the reasons include the fact that the files contain confidential information and that jail officials only feel comfortable releasing them to an officer of the court, who has an obligation to keep the information confidential.
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Also, says Murray, there is a risk that releasing medical records to a family member, who then might be privy to the timing of an outside doctor's appointment, could orchestrate an escape.
Collazo is in the county jail waiting to be transferred to prison after being sentenced to several years for jumping bond.
"He would certainly be considered a flight risk," says Murray.
Kallinen says the policy is unconstitutional and has informed the U.S. Department of Justice, which recently found a bevy of problems with the jail, about it.