Judge Could End Federal Oversight of California Prison Health Care
On Tuesday, a federal judge outlined a plan to end federal oversight of California's prison health care system, citing significant improvements over the last nine years, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports (Thompson, AP/Sacramento Bee, 3/10).
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 (California Healthline, 9/8/14).
Henderson said that the conditions were so bad that they constituted cruel and unusual punishment.
Details of Improvements
To address the issues, California over the last decade has:
- Spent $2 billion on new medical facilities for prisons;
- Doubled its annual budget for prison health care to about $1.7 billion; and
- Reduced its prison population by more than 40,000 inmates.
According to a report by court-appointed federal receiver J. Clark Kelso, the state prison system now has:
- Adequate medical staff;
- Processes to ensure inmates receive care; and
- An oversight system to catch problems when inmates do not receive care.
However, Kelso noted in his report that that the prison system still needs to make several improvements, including:
- Adequately keeping medical records;
- Appropriately scheduling appointments;
- Delivering care onsite rather than sending inmates to outside hospitals; and
- Upgrading treatment areas.
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.
However, the receiver 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.
According to the AP/Bee, the inspections already have begun and are projected to last more than a year.
Kelso said that the transition plan "sets a pathway for moving forward," noting that "the expectation is that quite a few of [the prisons] will be found to be providing adequate care and then we'll begin delegating back to the state authority for those institutions."
Don Specter -- director of the Prison Law Office in Berkeley and an attorney who represents inmates -- said the judge's plan represents a "well thought-out, elegant transition plan." He added, "I agree with Kelso that there are still significant issues, both systemic and individual institutions, which have to be corrected before the receivership should end."
Meanwhile, CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard in a statement said, "I look forward to the state resuming full control of our prison health care system" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 3/10).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.