California should not build more prison medical facilities because an initiative to shift thousands of inmates to county jails could prompt prison closures in coming years, according to a new report by the Legislative Analyst's Office, the Los Angeles Times' "PolitiCal" reports (Megerian, "PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 2/23).
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.
In May 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered California to reduce its inmate population to help improve medical care.
Since then, the state has begun shifting low-level offenders to county jails to address prison overcrowding and building new medical facilities at prisons.
In January, Henderson said the court-appointed federal oversight of California's prison health care can end because the state has improved inmate care (California Healthline, 1/30). However, the judge noted that the lack of new medical facilities still is an obstacle for prison health care ("PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 2/24).
Details of LAO Report
According to the LAO report, the prison system by 2017 will have 40,000 fewer inmates and supervise 51,000 fewer parolees because of the shift of inmates to county jails (Weintraub, HealthyCal, 2/23).
The report states that the switch "may make it possible to close some prisons in the future." It adds, "It would be unwise to make significant infrastructure investments at such facilities at this time" ("PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 2/23).
In addition, LAO's Aaron Edwards said that realignment will ease overcrowding so that it will be easier to "deliver adequate care within existing facilities" (Small, "KPCC News," KPCC, 2/23).
Kelso Responds to Report
Kelso responded that he is open to studying the potential effects of the prisoner realignment initiative. However, Kelso said that he still sees value in building new medical facilities.
He noted, "I'd like to have clinic space that is actually clinic space and not a converted linen closet," adding, "I'd like to see facilities that are designed to deliver health care" ("PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 2/23).