Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called on the federal district court to immediately terminate its prison health-care receivership, saying that the court-appointed receiver forced an ill-advised, $8 billion spending program on the strapped state in violation of federal law. The governor’s demand was filed Wednesday in San Francisco by state Attorney General Jerry Brown, a Democrat, and the state’s lawyer.
“The court should terminate this unaccountable prison receivership and its $8 billion construction plan, restoring a dose of fiscal reality to the provision of inmate medical care in California,” Brown said in the filing. “The federal receivership has turned into its own autonomous government operating outside the normal checks and balances of state and federal law.”
In place of the $8 billion plan, Schwarzenegger and Brown said the prison health care system should be returned to the state, and that an interim Special Master should be appointed to conduct hearings and make proposed findings.
The receiver is J. Clark Kelso, a law professor and veteran government troubleshooter who served as the state’s top technology official before taking on the receivership at the request of U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson.
Henderson’s decision stemmed from a lengthy court case targeting health-care in California’s prison system. Among other things, the receiver has proposed adding new prison health-care facilities and expanding existing ones.
According to the state, the receiver’s plan includes “seven new prison health care facilities containing 10,000 new beds for prisoners — that’s seven million square feet, or the size of 70 new Wal-Marts. The plan would also renovate space at each of the 33 existing state prisons. “
“The construction of new facilities, as well as the upgrading of existing facilities, is estimated to cost $8 billion. In addition, it will cost $1.7 billion to $2.3 billion per year to operate these facilities. The projected operations cost per inmate is $170,000 to $230,000 per year,” Brown said.
The state complained that the receiver’s plan comes at a time when the state faces a $40 billion deficit over the next 18 months.
“A draft of the plan includes yoga rooms, regulation-sized basketball courts with electronic bingo boards and bleachers and landscaped courtyards for reflection and meditation. The estimated annual operating costs of these seven new facilities is $230,000 per inmate annually, compared with $52,000 per inmate in a regular prison with access to clinics, therapy and programs,” Schwarzenegger said.
The state said it has increased per-inmate health care spending from $7,601 per year in 2005-2006 to $13,778 in 2007-2008. By comparison, spending per inmate in federal prisons will be $4,413 per inmate in 2008-2009. The average cost of health care coverage for a single person in California in 2008 was $4,906.
Last August, Kelso filed a motion to hold Schwarzenegger and other state officials in contempt for failing to turn over to the receiver $8 billion for his construction plans, and the district court ordered the state to make a down-payment of $250 million by Nov 5. Brown later appealed that decision to the 9th Circuit, which stayed the district court order.