Wednesday, May 9, 2012
State Asks Federal Judge to End Prison Health Care Receivership
Plaintiffs, Receiver Call Effort to Revive State Control Premature
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The state of California has asked a federal judge to end the receivership of the state’s prison health care system, a move objected to by the receiver and the inmates who brought the suit.
The parties Monday filed a joint report ordered by Senior District Judge Thelton Henderson of the Northern District of California. Henderson said on Jan. 17 that there had been “significant progress” and that “the end of the Receivership appears to be in sight.”
He told the parties to start planning for the return of health care authority to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
CDCR asked Monday that the receivership end within 30 days. The department suggested that the receiver be replaced for one year by a special master who would monitor progress on projects underway. The receiver and the inmates agreed that a special master should be appointed once the receivership terminates, and said the minimum period for the term of the special master should be a year.
Henderson found in 2005—after more than six years of litigation—that the level of care received by prisoners in the state system was substandard and constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
The state did not oppose receivership at that time, but later argued argues that the receivership violated the Prison Litigation Reform Act, an argument rejected by Henderson, whose rulings were upheld by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Henderson appointed a receiver in 2006 and named the current receiver, McGeorge School of Law professor and former acting state Insurance Commissioner J. Clark Kelso, in 2008.
Henderson said he would end the receivership when the state demonstrated the “will, capacity, and leadership to maintain a system of providing constitutionally adequate mental health care services to class members.”
The Berkeley-based Prison Law Office, which represents the inmates, said the state has not met that standard and has been “continuing to defy court orders, including orders from the nation’s highest court.”
The justices, the attorneys noted, found that prison overcrowding was the primary cause of the problem, and upheld a separate order by a three-judge panel requiring the department to reduce its population from nearly 200 percent of capacity to 137.5 percent in two years.
“Remarkably, defendants fail to acknowledge in this joint report that under this new plan defendants will defy the population cap ordered by the Supreme Court and the Three Judge Court,” they said.
The state responded that it had, as of April 25, met the courts’ interim benchmark of reducing the population to 155 percent of capacity.
Further progress will be made, the state said, as a result of AB 109, the realignment act shifting thousands of “low-level” inmates to county jails.
Kelso, whose views were largely, but not completely, endorsed by the inmates’ attorneys, outlined four conditions the state should be required to meet before the receivership is terminated:
•Completion of nearly all items set forth in a “turnaround plan” previously submitted to the court;
•Substantial compliance with prior court orders, as measured by the system’s Office of the Inspector General;
•Development of a plan for physician staffing at “hard to fill” institutions, primarily in rural areas; and
•A demonstration that prison officials are “ready and able to assume control of the system,” including achieving the population limits established by the three-judge court; construction of a planned health care facility in Stockton, with adequate appropriations for it to operated and fully occupied; obtaining of construction and financing approvals for other planned facilities; adequate funding of the prison medical system for the next two fiscal years; and establishment of a specific division within CDCR with responsibility for inmate healthcare.
The case is Plata v. Brown, C01-1351.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company