On Friday, a federal official said in a report filed with the U.S. District Court that California is not ready to regain oversight of its prison health care system, the New York Times reports (Medina, New York Times, 1/21).
About six years ago, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson appointed federal receiver 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 health care.
In April 2012, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation released a plan for reorganizing the state's prisons and ending federal oversight.
In October 2012, federal officials agreed to begin transferring select administrative functions of California's prison health care system to state officials.
Earlier this month, Gov. Jerry Brown's (D) administration filed a request for a federal court to drop its order for significant reductions in prison inmate populations and allow the state to regain oversight of the prison system.
The filing stated that California has reduced its inmate population and improved prison medical and mental health care (California Healthline, 1/9).
Details of New Report
Special Master Matthew Lopes compiled the new report after visiting two-thirds of California's prisons.
In the report, Lopes said Brown's request to end federal oversight of the state prison system is "not only premature, but a needless distraction from the important work that is being done in the quality improvement project."
Lopes cited several reasons for the need for continued federal oversight, including that:
- At least 32 inmates committed suicide in 2012;
- Prisons had various lapses in care; and
- Patients with mental illnesses sometimes were put in isolation units for long periods rather than given treatment.
Lopes also said that all 11 outpatient health care facilities in the prison system still conduct inmate counseling sessions in public rather than in more appropriate confidential settings. According to Lopes, 10 of the facilities do not offer at least 10 hours of structured therapy each week, which "should be made a priority" (St. John, Los Angeles Times, 1/19).
State officials say that court-appointed independent monitors have said in recent reports that there were no "particularly significant problems to highlight" in the prison health system and that reductions in waiting lists for inmate medical care demonstrated "a dramatic improvement that is unprecedented" (New York Times, 1/21).
Deborah Hoffman -- assistant secretary of communications at CDCR -- said, "We take suicides very seriously and have one of the most robust suicide prevention programs in the nation."
CDCR said it will issue a full response to the report at a later date (Los Angeles Times, 1/19).
Last week, the AP/KPCC's "KPCC News" reported on Lopes' recent findings (Thompson, "KPCC News," AP/KPCC, 1/18).