California Healthline Daily Edition

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Prison Receiver: State Cannot Yet Resume Oversight of Inmate Care

In an interview with the Associated Press, J. Clark Kelso, the federally appointed receiver for California's prison health care system, said the state needs to move forward with $2 billion in prison medical facility construction before it can take back oversight of inmate care, the AP/Washington Post reports (AP/Washington Post, 1/27).


About six years ago, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson appointed Kelso 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.

Earlier this month, Henderson said that the court-appointed federal oversight of California's prison health care can end because the state has improved inmate care (California Healthline, 1/18).

New Projects

According to the AP/Post, California has committed to:

  • Construct a new, $906 million medical center;
  • Spend $817 million on juvenile facility work, including new housing and treatment centers for the sick and inmates with mental conditions; and
  • Spend $750 million to improve existing health care facilities.

The state so far only has initiated building a new medical center in Stockton, according to the AP/Post (AP/Washington Post, 1/27).

State lawmakers have not allocated funding for two health care facility projects and have not made available the $750 million to improve California's existing prison clinics, according to KPCC's "KPCC News" (Small, "KPCC News," KPCC, 1/27).

State officials are weighing the need for new medical centers based on the shift of lower-level offenders to county control. 

Kelso's Comments

Kelso said California must start all the upgrades, even if the state reduces its number of prison inmates, to comply with court orders (AP/Washington Post, 1/27).

Kelso said, "We're at this interesting point where the closer you get to being done, everybody suddenly wants to stop" (Small, "KPCC News," KPCC, 1/27).

Kelso said the state also should set up a quasi-independent medical administration under the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to make sure inmate medical care projects continue to move forward (AP/Washington Post, 1/27).

The judge instructed Kelso, the state corrections department and attorneys who represent inmates to meet and file a report by April 30 to determine how progress will be monitored and sustained, as well as to decide when the federal receivership should end and if it should maintain any oversight responsibility (California Healthline, 1/18).

Kelso said the progress of the negotiations will influence how quickly the state can assume control of prison health care.

State Weighs In

Matthew Cate -- secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation -- said he would like the federal receivership to stop this summer. 

Cate added that it would be proper for the courts to preserve some supervisory role to evaluate inmate health care (AP/Washington Post, 1/27).

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