SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Litigation over health services in California prisons has come to a head with a motion by federal receiver Clark Kelso to hold Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in contempt for failing to spend $8 billion on prison health care while the state’s attorney general has challenged the receiver’s power to even make the contempt motion.
After finding that California was not following the state’s health-care mandate in its prisons, Kelso was appointed in January by U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson as the receiver in charge of fixing the problem.
In August, Kelso requested that the state spend an extra $8 billion over the next five years to build prison health-care facilities, despite the $7.4 billion dollars allocated last year for general prison construction projects. Since the state allocated almost $10 billion in the 2007-2008 state budget to prisons, the additional $8 billion would almost double prison expenditures.
“Last year, the Legislature approved $7.4 billion in prison construction funds,” said Attorney General Edmund Brown Jr. “That money hasn’t even been spent yet, and the Receiver wants $8 billion more.”
When the funds were denied, Kelso filed the motion to hold Schwarzenegger and Controller John Chiang in contempt.
Kelso has not disclosed to the public how exactly he will spend the money, but said his plans include the purchase of 7 million square feet of new medical facilities, and room for 10,000 new beds for sick prisoners.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Rochelle East said the state wants Kelso to make public his plans for the money, so that his proposal can be publically vetted before California is asked to pay.
In challenging the receiver’s contempt motion, the Attorney General’s Office is saying the federal court does not have the power to decide this case. Representing the governor, Deputy Attorney General Daniel Powell pointed to the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996, saying it restricts the court from forcing the state to pay for prison construction.
The state’s overall position is that many of the original problems were caused by a lack of qualified medical staff, and that situation has changed. Now, 86 percent of the prison nursing positions are filled, as are 81 percent of physician positions.