California prison medical system adding to state’s giant financial troubles

“Frustrated and showing signs of temper, California’s prison medical receiver on Wednesday asked a federal judge to give him what the governor, the controller and the Legislature have not ā€“ enough money to fix the state’s correctional health care crisis.

The bill will be $8 billion over five years, J. Clark Kelso said at his downtown Sacramento office. It would go toward building seven new chronic-care facilities to house 10,500 inmate patients and upgrading medical units at all 33 state prisons.

In the legal motion filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, Kelso blasted ahead in what amounted to the receivership’s boldest move yet in the 2 1/2 years since it was created by judicial mandate

Kelso acted under authority granted to him by Henderson, the federal judge who ruled in 2005 that California is violating the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by failing to provide adequate medical care to its prison population. The judge said in his fact findings that one inmate a week was dying due to medical neglect, a figure that has remained substantially unchanged, according to later surveys conducted by the receiver’s office.

The receiver’s primary remedy has been to build the seven chronic-care facilities and upgrade medical units. He has slated the new facilities for Folsom, Stockton, Solano County, San Diego, Ventura, Whittier and Chino.

Kelso said the state’s failure to approve a budget “raises the very real, immediate prospect that our construction program will fail.” He said he needs $360 million this year to continue the planning process and $3.1 billion in the next fiscal year. The state currently faces a projected $15.2 billion deficit for 2008-09.

Legislators are three weeks from the end of session, a period during which they could still gut and amend a bill to give Kelso his bonds.

He said he doesn’t want to bank on a last-minute fix.

“I indicated to the Legislature I did not want to be drawn into the budget vortex where late-night deals are made, without public consideration and without thoughtful consideration,” Kelso said, his voice rising. “I don’t want to be drawn into that.

“I’ve waited really as long as I can wait.”


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