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Brown's bid to take back control of state prisons suffers setback

The official appointed to oversee all inmate healthcare says persistent overcrowding creates 'a cascade of consequences that substantially interferes with the delivery of care.'

January 25, 2013|By Paige St. John, Los Angeles Times
  • Inmates congregate at California State Prison in Lancaster in 2010. Gov. Jerry Brown wants to take control of California's prisons back from federal courts, but the official appointed to oversee inmate healthcare said the state is not ready.
Inmates congregate at California State Prison in Lancaster in 2010. Gov.… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown's bid to take full control of California's prisons back from federal courts suffered another setback Friday when the official appointed to oversee all inmate healthcare said the state is not ready.

Persistent overcrowding creates "a cascade of consequences that substantially interferes with the delivery of care," said the official, J. Clark Kelso, in a report to the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

He acknowledged improvements in 19 of 20 state prisons recently viewed by state officials. But his comments were a sharp rebuke to Brown's claim that California's corrections crisis is over and the state is equipped to run prison healthcare on its own. The governor vowed to take his custody battle to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

To make its case, the Brown administration had invoked some of Kelso's earlier findings of improved medical care, suggesting that Kelso thought overcrowding was no longer interfering with its delivery. Kelso said the administration's use of his findings "distorts" and "misrepresents" his position.

Kelso objected to California's contention that it can deliver adequate care with prisons holding 45% more inmates than they were built for. The state admits that despite Brown's prison realignment plan, which requires low-level offenders and parole violators to serve their sentences in county jails, California cannot meet the court's cap of 37.5% crowding by June.

Kelso's latest report comes a week after the court-appointed official who oversees prison psychiatric services also advised against restoring full state control. Special Master Matthew Lopes cited recent increases in the inmate suicide rate, well above the national average.

In new documents filed Friday, Lopes said a review of 34 suicides that occurred in 2011 found lapses in prison care in three out of four of the deaths.

State corrections officials Friday again contended that crowding no longer impairs medical care.

"We have shrunk the prison population by more than …43,000 inmates since 2006," said Deb Hoffman, undersecretary of communications for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. "The court itself has said that due to the tremendous improvements in prison medical care, the end of the receivership is in sight."

paige.stjohn@latimes.com

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