Expected Order for Prison Health Funds Complicates State Budget
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson "made it clear" that he will order California to provide funds requested by the court-appointed receiver of the prison health care system to build new prison medical facilities, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 10/7).
Henderson said he will issue the order in a few days and will order state officials to appear before him on Oct. 20 to explain when and how the state will fund the construction project.
J. Clark Kelso, the prison health care receiver, has proposed building seven new facilities for chronically or mentally ill inmates by mid-2013.Â The new facilities would be able to accommodate 10,000 inmates.
In addition, Kelso has proposed upgrading existing facilities at California's 33 prisons.
To fund the construction and upgrades, Kelso has requested $8 billion from the state.Â
Henderson approved the construction proposal in June. He removed the prison medical system from state control more than two years ago after concluding that health care did not meet constitutional standards.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has voiced support for the plan, but the Legislature has not approved funding for the project (Richman, Oakland Tribune, 10/6).
First $250 Million
Kelso maintains that he will need $250 million to fund his work through the end of 2008 and that he will need a plan for the state to provide $3.5 billion between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2009, for construction (Herdt, Ventura County Star, 10/7).
Kelso's plan calls for construction on some facilities to begin in February 2009.Â
Kelso said that a bond measure for new prison construction that the Legislature approved two years ago includes $250 million that can be used for his initial funding request.
In the hearing on Monday, Deputy Attorney General Daniel Powell argued that building new prisons is beyond court authority and that it "is a decision for the Legislature to make." Powell said that Kelso's construction plan "goes well beyond what the Constitution would require" to provide adequate health care (San Francisco Chronicle, 10/7).
Henderson said that the state's argument comes too late in the process, noting that state officials took part in construction discussions and did not voice any opposition when he approved the plan in June (Oakland Tribune, 10/6).
The debate over prison health care funding comes as the governor considers calling a special legislative session to mull strategies for continued budget shortfalls in California.
Attorney General Jerry Brown (D) called the funding proposal "incredible," adding, "The state doesn't have enough money to pay its bills right now. ... If you take this money, you may take it from children, you may take it from the mentally ill, you may take it from the elderly" (Halper/Rothfeld, Los Angeles Times, 10/7).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.