Calif. AG wants disclosure of controverisal prison plan

Legal News Line Jan. 13, 2009, 3:26pm

Jerry Brown (D)

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline)-News of a court appointed receiver's plans for seven new inmate hospitals in California, complete with yoga classes and outdoor courtyards, touched a nerve with taxpayers this week.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown had filed a motion in federal court in December, demanding public disclosure of Federal Receiver J. Clark Kelso's $8 billion prison construction plan.

Brown's move tried to block a court order demanding the first payment, $250 million from the state, at a time when California faces a "financial Armageddon," according to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The state may start issuing IOUs instead of payments and employees will be forced to take two unpaid days a month starting in February in the cash-strapped state.

Against that backdrop, plans for the prison hospitals that speak of a "holistic" environment, exercise rooms that "promote wellness," music and art therapy, natural light, high ceilings, "quiet rooms" that "maximize natural light to create a normative environment" and even yoga classes came to light this week.

Richard Stapler, who is with the federal agency suing the state, said the money is needed to start long overdue projects, according to published reports.

"On average, one inmate was dying every five to six days because of the inadequate health care," he said.

The state and the court are embroiled in a simmering legal and political battle over the plans to improve the state's prison facilities.

The $250 million payment was supposed to be the first installment of the $8 billion settlement from the 2002 case of Plata v. Schwarzenegger, a class action lawsuit that determined California inmates were receiving inadequate care that amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

Kelso sued the state earlier this year and asked the court to hold Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Controller John Chiang in contempt for their refusal to pay him the money needed to construct new prisons and improve inmate health care.

Brown countered by saying the Legislature approved $7.4 billion in prison construction funds during the last fiscal year. In December, he urged the 9th circuit court of appeals to reverse the lower court ruling, arguing that Kelso's plans were not being adequately disclosed.

"Attorney General Brown's motion honors the California Constitutional principle that government is accountable to the people," the attorney general's office said. "Article I, Section 3 (b) of the California Constitution declares 'The people have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business...'"

Federal officials expect a court ruling on the $250 million payment within the next three months. The rest of the money is supposed to come from lease revenue bonds.

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