Receiver to Relinquish Control of Prison Health Care

State prisoners in overcrowded, makeshift quarters

The federal judge overseeing California’s prisons ordered his appointed receiver to begin steps to turn control of inmate medical care back to the state after six years under court control.  U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson rejected the state’s assertion that it would be ready to take control of the inmate health care system in the next 30 days and carry out reforms without the receiver’s oversight.

“The record does not contain sufficient evident to support that assertion,” Henderson wrote in an order issued Wednesday.

Henderson appointed receiver, Clark Kelso, to oversee the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, CDCR, as it implemented health care reforms.  Disagreements arose over how to determine when the state is ready and what level of improvement the prisons needed to achieve.

Henderson ordered Kelso to work with CDCR and the prisons’ Secretary Matthew Cate to determine when Kelso can delegate authority for particular tasks to the state.  Kelso has already entered into one revocable delegation of authority to the state.  “This appears to be an appropriate mechanism for accomplishing the gradual return of inmate medical care to [the state] while ensuring appropriate court oversight,” Henderson said.

Henderson first found the prison health care to be in such a sorry state in 2002 it amounted to an unconstitutional violation of 8th Amendment rights against cruel punishment.  He appointed a monitor to keep watch on improvements, but when the prisons failed to move quickly enough Henderson installed a receiver in 2006 to take control of the prisons.

Since then a special three-judge panel, which included Henderson, found prison overcrowding contributed to the unconstitutionally lousy health care.  The state passed legislation to overhaul the system, known as realignment.   It shifts non-violent felons to local jails, taking the pressure off the state’s 33 prisons.  Prison crowding reached 200 percent of capacity in 2006, with 173,000 inmates in facilities designed for 80,000.  That total has dropped to 155 percent of capacity but still is far from the court-ordered 137.5 percent of capacity.

Earlier this month lawyers for the inmates argued that although California corrections officials believe the prisons have improved enough to end six years under a federal court receiver’s control, “they are wrong,” in a joint report.

Kelso agreed at the time. He proposed to remain in control of the prisons until January 2014.

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation argued that its “medical care system has been wholly transformed” in the six years since the receiver was installed in 2006.

Henderson called for court-appointed experts to set a schedule to evaluate each of the state’s 33 prisons for adequacy of care and to use the third round of evaluations by the Office of Inspector General.

If a prison receives an OIG score of 85 percent or higher, it must be evaluated by the independent experts within six months.  Experts have the discretion to evaluate facilities with scores between 75-85 percent.

Kelso has said that each prison should score 80 percent or above in the OIG audit process and if below 80 then a score of 75 percent would be considered “adequate care.”

Case:  Plata v. Brown, No.  C01-1351TEH


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