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Judge: Federal Oversight of Calif. Prison Medical System Can End

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson said that court-appointed federal oversight of California's prison health care system can end because the state has improved inmate care, Bloomberg reports (Pettersson, Bloomberg, 1/17).


About six years ago, Henderson appointed a federal receiver to oversee the state's prison health care system after determining that an average of one inmate per week died as a result of malpractice or neglect.

In 2007, federal judges ruled that overcrowding was a leading contributor to poor prison care. Last May, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered California to reduce its inmate population to help improve medical care.

Since the federal receivership was created, the state has:

  • Begun shifting some state prison inmates to county jails to address prison overcrowding;
  • Built new medical facilities at several prisons; and
  • Doubled funding for inmate health care to more than $15,000 annually for each inmate.

Details of the Decision

Henderson wrote in the decision that the state has made "significant progress." Henderson added, "While some critical work remains outstanding -- most notably on construction issues -- it is clear that many of the goals of the receivership have been accomplished" (Thompson, AP/Sacramento Bee, 1/17).

State officials, the Prison Law Office that filed suit against the state for poor medical conditions, and J. Clark Kelso -- the federal receiver -- should meet and file a report by April 30 to determine how progress will be monitored and sustained, according to the ruling (Megerian, Los Angeles Times, 1/18).

Henderson also ordered the group to report on when the federal receivership should end and if it should maintain any oversight responsibility (AP/Sacramento Bee, 1/17).


Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said, "We have been working very hard to clean up the mess in the prisons, and I appreciate the judicial recognition of our efforts."

Matthew Cate -- secretary of the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation -- said the agency is "ready and willing to start planning for the end of federal oversight of prison medical care" (Los Angeles Times, 1/18).

Nancy Kincaid -- a spokesperson for Kelso -- said Kelso looks forward to participating in the talks on how to move forward after the receivership (AP/Sacramento Bee, 1/17).

Donald Specter -- director of the Prison Law Office -- said that progress had been made in the prisons but that more improvements are needed, including the construction of new prison clinics and hospitals (Bloomberg, 1/17). Specter added that he was concerned about the state "backsliding, especially in times when money is tight" (Los Angeles Times, 1/18).

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