State Budget Crisis Threaten $8B Prison Plan

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – California’s budget crisis may keep the state from paying the $8 billion settlement in Plata v. Schwarzenegger, the federal class action in which a judge ruled for California inmates who called the state’s lack of medical care cruel and unusual punishment. Attorney General Jerry Brown appealed, and a taxpayers’ group filed a separate federal complaint calling the plan illegal and irresponsible.

     California faces a $42 billion deficit over the next 18 months – a shortfall of nearly half of its projected revenue for the 2009-2010 fiscal year. During his State of the State address, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called the shortfall “a rock upon our chest” that puts California in a “state of emergency” and forced the state to contemplate a shorter public school year, slash government employee wages, and suspend more than 2,000 infrastructure projects.
     Attorney General Jerry Brown on Tuesday asked the 9th Circuit to stop the federally appointed receiver from “commandeering $8 billion” from the state’s dwindling treasury. Brown called receiver J. Clark Kelso’s construction plans illegal, “unaccountable and extravagant.”
     The federal court appointed Kelso in 2005 after finding that the state failed to comply with the settlement agreement.
     In June 2008, Kelso announced plans to begin construction of seven new long-term care facilities by February 2009. According to Clark’s “Turnaround Plan of Action,” the clinics would include yoga rooms, music and art therapy and electronic bingo boards, among other things.
     In Tuesday’s appeal, Attorney General Brown said the Prison Litigation Reform Act bars federal judges from ordering construction of new prisons. Brown says the 7 million square foot construction plan goes far beyond the Act’s requirement that courts addressing constitutional violations go “no further than necessary to correct the violation.”
     Taxpayers for a Safe Ventura County also sued the receiver to protest one of the seven new facilities – a planned 1,500-bed prison that would replace a 250-bed juvenile facility in Ventura County. The group says Kelso neglected to study the impact the new prison would have on the county’s safety and public infrastructure. The citizens’ group is represented by Steven Baric.

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