California AG wants to end prison receivership

Legal News Line Jan. 29, 2009, 11:14am

Jerry Brown (D)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - California Attorney General Jerry Brown has filed a motion in U.S. District Court urging the court to terminate the court-appointed receivership over the state's prison system.

It's the latest in several legal shots back and forth between the state and the federal receiver determined to revamp the prison's health care system across the state.

"The court should terminate this unaccountable prison receivership and its $8 billion construction plan, restoring a dose of fiscal reality to the provision of inmate medical care in California," Brown said Wednesday. "The federal receivership has turned into its own autonomous government operating outside the normal checks and balances of state and federal law."

U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson appointed prison system receiver Clark Kelso after a 2002 class-action lawsuit, Plata v. Schwarzenegger, which determined California inmates were receiving inadequate care that amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

Kelso was supposed to be given $250 million last year to begin an $8 billion revamping of the prisons medical care, which included the construction of seven new prison health care facilities - 7 million square feet of construction - in addition to renovations at each of the 33 existing state prisons.

When California refused to make the payment, Kelso took them back to court, including asking for contempt charges against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Controller John Chiang.

The legal battle has ensued ever since, with Brown taking the lead in blocking the payment.

Brown has taken issue with the size and scope of the plan and that it has not been properly reviewed by the state Legislature.

A draft of the plan also includes yoga rooms, extensive landscaping designed to minimize the appearance of a prison, art therapy, an emphasis on natural light and high ceilings, and a so-called "treatment mall," according to the attorney general's office.

The new facilities will cost $1.7 billion to $2.3 billion per year to operate. The projected operations cost per inmate is $170,000 to $230,000 per year.

California has built 23 prisons in 23 years, which Brown believes shows continual improvement in the system. California, according to the attorney general's office, has increased per inmate health care spending from $7,601 per year in 2005-2006 to $13,778 in 2007-2008.

"Nevertheless, the Receiver continues to insist on a massive program that would lead to the construction of facilities and amenities that go well-beyond standards required by the Constitution and federal law," a press release issued by the attorney general following today's court appearance stated.

Schwarzenegger said state lawmakers have balked at the cost of Kelso's plan coming at a time when the state is facing one of its worst financial crises ever and faces a $42 billion deficit through June of 2010.

More News