Brown, Kelso wage public opinion war over prison funding

Legal News Line Feb. 9, 2009, 3:19pm


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - California Attorney General Jerry Brown has already made his appeal in court to block the state's payment of $250 million to build new prison health facilities.

Now he's taking his appeal directly to the public.

Brown wrote an opinion piece released in Wednesday's edition of the Sacramento Bee, calling Clark Kelso, the federally appointed receiver, a czar who is unaccountable to the taxpayers.

U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson appointed Kelso after a 2002 class-action lawsuit, Plata v. Schwarzenegger, 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 - seven 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 the state to court, including asking for contempt charges against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Controller John Chiang.

Brown entered the fray, seeking to block the payment in court, and last week, asking the court to terminate the receivership.

In Wednesday's article, Brown wrote, "the prison health czar believes he is wholly immune for the harsh realities of the state budget." He called Kelso's plan "wildly excessive" and far too expensive to operate annually.

"If California had all the money in the world, perhaps we could consider this," Brown wrote. "But programs for schoolchildren and health care for seniors are on the chopping block - in addition to many state programs. This massive plan simply doesn't square with the belt-tightening taking place."

After describing the gains made in prison care by the state and increasing cost-per-inmate expenditures, Brown said it was simply time "to terminate the receivership and return control of prison health to the state."

Kelso hasn't backed down from the fight legally, and likewise has changed tactics of late to battle with Brown in the court of public opinion. Two weeks ago he authorized a costly and difficult prison transfer that would move the more chronically ill patients to facilities in urban areas where better health care is available.

Then on Tuesday he released photographs of the California State Hospital, a facility for violent sexual offenders recently opened. Kelso said the hospital, completed under the Schwarzenegger administration, is exactly what he intends to replicate, which Brown has called "gold-plated utopias" for prisoners.

"A picture speaks a thousand volumes here," Kelso said, explaining that Brown and Schwarzenegger "are criticizing their own treatment programs," according to published reports.

Kelso said his plans have been mischaracterized by Brown's campaign in the court of public opinion.

"I don't believe it's a boondoggle. I don't believe it's a gold-plated treatment," he said.

He has also accused Brown of jumping into the fight simply for political reasons as he prepares to launch a bid for governor in 2010.

Kelso said he might soon be forced to drop any treatment care for the mentally ill, an assignment he took on "as an accommodation to the governor" and focus only on improving medical treatment for the physically ill, as required under the federal receivership.

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