In a report Wednesday to federal judges, the official overseeing prison medical care said Gov. Jerry Brown's public opposition to crowding reductions, and his corrections officials' refusal to move inmates at risk of a deadly disease, show California is unready to run its own prisons.
The immediate focus of J. Clark Kelso's ire is California's refusal to implement his May 1 directive requiring the state to move nearly half the inmates from two Central Valley prisons afflicted with valley fever. Brown's administration responded that the order was "ambiguous" and that the state would delay any action until receiving further input from the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
The state's refusal "even to take preliminary steps ... suggest that they may not yet possess the requisite concern for preventing unnecessary morbidity and death among inmates to justify further transition of the prison medical system back to Defendants' control," Kelso wrote.
In addition, Kelso accused Brown's administration of deliberately flouting court orders to reduce prison crowding, as well as showing "opposition bordering on contempt" for his own efforts to improve prison medical care.
All but citing Brown by name, Kelso decried remarks by "State leaders ... that too many resources and too much money has been spent improving prison healthcare." The result of such public statements, Kelso said, "has been to freeze and ossify" any improvement in the prisons themselves.
"In short, the tone from the top of the Administration that improvements in prison healthcare have gone too far and that necessary reductions in population density have gone too far interferes with our progress towards a final transition of prison medical care back to the State," Kelso wrote.
Kelso's valley fever directive ordered state officials to relocate about 3,200 inmates at Avenal and Pleasant Valley state prisons because they belong to groups deemed at elevated risk of developing a fatal reaction to the fungus. The list included all African Americans, those over 55, and inmates with certain medical conditions.
After the corrections department failed to do so itself, Kelso also asked the state health department to seek CDC assistance in investigating the valley fever outbreaks. About three dozen inmates have died after contracting the disease, spread by dust.
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