Some Concerned Prison Health Advances Will Stop Without Oversight


Medical officials and prison inmate advocates are questioning whether health care in the state's 33 prisons will continue to improve without federal oversight, the Los Angeles Times reports (Megerian, Los Angeles Times, 2/10).


About six years ago, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson appointed J. Clark 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.

Since the federal receivership was created, the state has:

  • Begun shifting some state prison inmates to county jails to address prison overcrowding;
  • Built new medical facilities at several prisons; and
  • Doubled funding for inmate health care to more than $15,000 annually for each inmate.
  • Last month, Henderson said that federal oversight can end because the state has improved inmate care (California Healthline, 1/18).

Concern With Ending Federal Oversight

Donald Specter -- director of the Prison Law Office, the advocacy group that filed a lawsuit that led to the receivership -- said he is afraid that California's budget challenges might lead state officials to stop investing in inmate care.

Kelso said that some of the state's prisons still lack adequate health facilities. He noted that Gov. Jerry Brown (D) already has suspended plans to build new prison medical facilities and spend $750 million in upgrades for existing prison clinics.

State Response

State officials said that they are continuing to improve care by:

  • Replacing non-board-certified physicians with those who are board-certified;
  • Adopting electronic health records to replace paper records; and
  • Improving how prescription drugs are distributed to prisoners.

Matthew Cate -- secretary of the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation -- said officials should "have some faith that we'll be able to get this done without backsliding into conditions that were found unconstitutional to begin with" (Los Angeles Times, 2/10).

Tom Johnson
So, we spent $15,000 per inmate. Great! We only spent $8,047 per person in the U.S. in 2009 so we're spending almost twice as much per inmate as we do on the rest of us? And the "advocates" are worried we aren't spending enough? What kind of waste and abuse is acceptable to them? Inmates who feign medical problems in order to get a trip to the specialist; inmates who fail to comply with doctor ordered treatments or fail to take perscriptions; inmates who receive dental care which is unavailable to many law abiding citizens, etc. This is not hyperbole; it happens. Spending on our prisons has gone up 65% in the last 10 years. Spending on California's health services system has gone up only 5% in that same period. Get real advocates.

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