Judge Rejects State’s Request To End Prison Health Receivership
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson rejected the state's request to end a court-appointed prison health care receivership, the AP/San Jose Mercury News reports (Thompson, AP/San Jose Mercury News, 3/24).
Henderson removed the prison medical system from state control more than two years ago after concluding that care provided to inmates did not meet constitutional standards (California Healthline, 2/9).
Prison health care receiver J. Clark Kelso has submitted a plan seeking $8 billion to build seven new health centers for 10,000 prisoners and to improve some existing prison medical centers. Last month, Kelso said the cost could be cut in half because only 5,000 new beds may be needed (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/25).
The Schwarzenegger administration had called for prison health care oversight to be returned to the state, arguing that the prison health care receiver is no longer needed (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 3/24).
In the complaint filed with the U.S. District Court, Attorney General Jerry Brown (D) argued that Kelso's plan violates the federal Prison Litigation Reform Act, which he said bars federal courts from mandating prison construction.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R)Â hasÂ said KelsoÂ went "too far" in his plans "over the last several months, especially considering the economic realities of these times" (California Healthline, 1/29).
Details of Ruling
In his ruling, Henderson dismissed the state's claim that Kelso is violating federal law by seeking the construction money (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 3/24).
He also rejected the state's arguments that the initial appointment of the receiver overstepped federal law and that Kelso's construction plan was a more "intrusive" solution than necessary (Rothfeld, Los Angeles Times, 3/25).
Henderson added, "The court is far from confident that (state officials) have the will, capacity or leadership to provide constitutionally adequate medical care in the absence of a receivership."
Henderson said he would ensure that Kelso's plans do not surpass what is needed to improve conditions to legally required levels and that he would turn the prison health care system back over to the state once conditions have improved.
Brown said the state would appeal the decision.
In a statement, he said, "The federal receivership has become its own autonomous government operating outside the normal checks and balances of state and federal law."
He added, "Already, California is spending almost $14,000 per inmate for health care, far more than any other state. It is time for a dose of fiscal common sense."
In a statement, Kelso said, "I look forward with renewed commitment to working collaboratively with state officials and agencies to achieve our shared goal of improving prison medical and health care to constitutional levels and transitioning the management of prison health care back to the state" (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 3/24).
State Held in Contempt of Court?
Kelso is seeking to hold the state in contempt of court for failing to provide a $250 million down payment for his construction plan (Stockton Record, 3/25).
A decision as to whether Kelso has the authority to order the state to spend money on prison construction is pending in the ninth circuit court of appeals (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 3/24).
Prison Mental Health Services
Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton said he is considering appointing another receiver to take over the prison system's mental health services.
Karlton said the state failed to submit a plan to overhaul prison mental health by the February deadline he had imposed.
State officials said they missed the deadline in part because of their efforts to remove Kelso and block his construction plan.
On Tuesday, Karlton gave state officials 60 days to develop a plan to improve care for prison inmates with mental illnesses or face being held in contempt of court (AP/Sacramento Bee, 3/24).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.