California Prison Health Care Improves; Contract Prisons Lag
California's prison health care system has continued to improve, but the same progress has not been made at the contract prisons that house the state's overflow inmate population, according to a new report, the Los Angeles Times' "PolitiCal" reports.
Court-appointed federal receiver J. Clark Kelso filed the report Monday with the three judges who oversee the state's prisons (St. John, "PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 6/1).
In 2006, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson ruled that federal oversight of the state's prison health care system was needed after determining that an average of one inmate per week died as a result of medical malpractice or neglect.
However, Henderson in March outlined a plan to end that oversight, citing significant improvements over the last nine years. For example, a previous report by Kelso found that the state prison system at the time had:
- Adequate medical staff;
- Processes to ensure inmates receive care; and
- An oversight system to catch problems when inmates do not receive care.
Still, Kelso noted that that the prison system still needed to make several improvements (California Healthline, 3/11).
Problems Persist at Contract Prisons
According to Kelso's new report, "Little progress has been made in resolving, much less improving," the health care provided to the 4,200 inmates in seven contract prisons, which are paid by the state.
Of the seven prisons:
- Four are in Kern and San Bernardino counties and are owned by the GEO Group; and
- Three are owned by communities.
According to the report, all seven contract prisons showed a "lack of accountability" and failed to meet state requirements for staffing levels and ensuring physicians be available at least five days each week. Consequently, inmates who needed care had to return to the state prisons, according to the report.
A spokesperson for Kelso said the worst problems were at GEO's women's prison in McFarland, where the prison's 231 inmates had no access to a physician for a month.
Meanwhile, Kelso said that problems could be exacerbated if Gov. Jerry Brown (D) decides to transfer more than 8,000 inmates currently being held in out-of-state private prisons to the contract prisons in order to save money, "PolitiCal" reports.
State Prisons Continue To Improve
Meanwhile, Kelso's report found that health care in California's state-run prisons has continued to improve. As a result, preparations are being made to return oversight back to state ("PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 6/1).
Under Henderson's plan, oversight will transition back into state control if all 34 state prisons pass an inspection by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The court-appointed federal receiver then would act as a monitor and could retake control of the system if conditions decline.
Henderson said he will assume prison health care meets constitutional standards and will consider ending the receivership if the state maintains control of the system for a year (California Healthline, 3/11).
According to "PolitiCal," Kelso's office will transition prisons one at a time as they improve. The first prison to return to state management could be Folsom State Prison, which is under final review after the Office of Inspector General in April determined health care at the facility to be adequate.
In a response to Kelso's report, CDCR said it was "pleased" with the progress noted in the report. The agency added that it is "working collaboratively" with Kelso's office "to improve the delivery of care" at the seven contract prisons.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the GEO Group in a statement said that its prisons "have always strived to provide high-quality medical services consistent with strict contractual requirements and industry-leading standards." He added that the company will work with California to "ensure consistent delivery of quality medical services."
Under the GEO Group's contract with the state, California can seek damages if the facilities fail to meet minimum health care staffing requirements. However, CDCR spokesperson Deborah Hoffman said the agency will not seek damages and instead is requesting that the contract prisons:
- Increase the time physicians and nurses are available;
- Improve auditing requirements; and
- Modify training ("PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 6/1).