On Friday, federal officials will begin transferring select administrative functions for California's prison health care system to state officials, according to federal receiver J. Clark Kelso, the Los Angeles Times reports (St. John, Los Angeles Times, 10/25).
About six years ago, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson appointed Kelso to oversee the state's prison health care system after determining that an average of one inmate per week died as a result of malpractice or neglect.
In May 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered California to reduce its inmate population to help improve health care.
In April, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation released a plan for reorganizing the state's prisons and ending federal oversight.
The following month, Henderson denied California's request to resume full oversight of prison health care.
In September, Henderson once again denied California's request to resume full oversight (California Healthline, 9/6).
Details of Partial Transfer of Oversight
Kelso said that giving a few responsibilities back to the state will show whether officials have "the will and capacity to maintain improvement" and assume full control of the prison health care system.
He said, "I'm only letting them do a portion of it," adding, "I'm going to sit over in the passenger seat."
Among the tasks that Kelso plans to hand over to state officials are:
- Allocating funds for prison health care facilities and staff;
- Ensuring that inmates have access to physicians, clinics and hospitals; and
- Staffing and equipping new prison health care facilities (Los Angeles Times, 10/25).
According to the plan, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation will manage the opening of the largest prison health facility in the U.S., which will be located in Stockton. The 144-acre facility -- scheduled to open by July 2013-- will house 1,700 inmates who cannot stay in regular prisons because they require 24-hour care (Small, "KPCC News," KPCC, 10/25).
For now, Kelso will retain control over health care delivery for inmates.
The federal overseer said that California could have full control of its prison health care system in two years or less.
Reaction to Transfer of Oversight
Donald Specter -- lead attorney for the not-for-profit Prison Law Office -- said that state officials have warned of potential cuts to the prison system, which could undo the progress made by the federal receivership if Kelso reduces his oversight role.
Specter said, "It is not at all clear that [CDCR] has the ability to manage such a large and complicated operation that is essential, literally, for the lives and well-being of the people in its custody."
A CDCR spokesperson declined to comment on the transfer of responsibilities. Matthew Cate -- secretary of CDCR -- for years has said that state prisons already provide adequate health care to inmates and that the state is ready to resume full oversight of the system (Los Angeles Times, 10/25).