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New prison medical facilities unnecessary, analyst says

Legislative analyst's office questions the need for new construction as the prison population declines. But a court-appointed receiver has plans for $2.3 billion in new clinics and upgrades.

February 24, 2012|By Chris Megerian, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Sacramento -- California should hold off on building new medical facilities for prison inmates, according to the legislative analyst's office.

That view contradicts plans by the court-appointed receiver who has run the prison health system since a federal judge declared it unconstitutionally inadequate. He has plans for $2.3 billion in new clinics and upgrades.

Construction is one of the final sticking points before the state can end six years of federal oversight of inmate medical care. The judge has ordered preparations for returning control to the state but said the lack of new medical facilities is an ongoing problem.

The state is already building a new facility for long-term medical and mental healthcare in Stockton. But the receiver, J. Clark Kelso, wants to convert three former juvenile correctional facilities to provide care to adult inmates and spend $750 million on upgrades to clinics throughout the 33-prison system.

Although the legislative analyst's office said in a report issued Thursday that some medical facilities remain in poor condition, it questioned the need for new construction. The prison population is declining because low-level offenders are being kept in county custody to reduce overcrowding.

That re-routing "may make it possible to close some prisons in the future," the report said. "It would be unwise to make significant infrastructure investments at such facilities at this time."

Kelso has said that some new medical facilities will be necessary anyway. Prison medical needs are increasing as the inmate population ages. There are 70,000 prisoners with chronic health problems such as hypertension, HIV and diabetes, and 50,000 inmates are at least 50 years old.

chris.megerian@latimes.com

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