Prison funding feud with AG could result in musical chairs for 7,000 inmates

Legal News Line Jan. 23, 2009, 11:00am

Jerry Brown (D)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - Following efforts by the California Attorney General to block $8 billion in improvements to the state's prisons, the court appointed receiver charged with improving chronically poor heath care has recommended that more than 7,000 inmates be transferred to prisons with better medical facilities.

The court filing made said the prisoners currently in four remote prisons should be transferred to prisons closer to urban areas with better access to medical facilities. To make room, healthy inmates from those prisons would be shipped to facilities in Central Valley that receiver Clark Kelso said is incapable of providing acceptable health care.

"There seems to be a feeling by the governor and the attorney general that there are no consequences to not building facilities," John Hagar, Kelso's chief of staff told media outlets. "We're going to begin moving the receivership in a somewhat different direction, given the impasse."

But critics of the plan, including Attorney General Jerry Brown, said the plan to uproot tens of thousands of prisoners will not meet its intended objective.

"The receiver has made a lot of progress," Brown said. "But it seems the more he makes, the less happy he is. No matter what the state does, it's never enough."

The latest legal action follows several attempts in court to force the state to pay the first installment -- $250 million - toward the $8 billion Kelso wants to overhaul the state's system. Last summer, Kelso asked that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Controller John Chiang be held in contempt of court for not authorizing the payment.

Brown has fought back in court and in the public eye, offering relentless legal opposition to Kelso's demand for payment, the latest of which came on Wednesday when the attorney general asked a federal appeals court to block the plan.

In his court filing, Brown argued that a federal judge cannot order the money from the state without violating federal law and stave sovereignty. He also claimed Kelso's plan had not been subject to proper review.

This is the second time Brown has asked a federal appeals court to overturn the ruling that would force the state to pay, while demanding that plans for improvements be made public. In recent weeks, several media reports have documented Kelso's plans for landscaping that helps make the facilities look less like a prison, that offer yoga classes for wellness and that include other extravagances Brown does not believe are essential for prisoner health.

"Quite clearly, these amenities go well beyond what is required by the Eighth Amendment," Brown stated in his brief. The Eighth Amendment of the Bill of Rights outlaws cruel and usual punishment.

Brown issued a news release stating that he court needed to "rein in" Kelso.

The state is facing a fiscal meltdown that has led to Schwarzenegger mandating two unpaid days a month for all state employees starting in March, and for Chiang to make public that the state may start issuing IOUs instead of payments to vendors in March. The state's deficit is believed to be approaching $25 billion.

Kelso has argued in court that under the current system prisoners are dying regularly for lack of proper medical care.

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