Judge Rejects Ending Prison Health Oversight

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The federal judge who took control of California prison health care some three years ago rejected a request today to scrap the court-appointed receivership.

U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson denied a petition from Governor Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown to replace the receivership with the more limited powers of a special master.

State officials argued that the receivership has met its goals of ensuring that California prison health care is of a quality required by the U.S. Constitution. They also criticized receiver Clark Kelso for the level of spending being proposed, and the kinds of services the money would go towards providing.

The 24-page ruling from Henderson is probably best summarized by the following passage:

"Based on the entire record in this case, the Court is far from confident that Defendants [the state] have the will, capacity, or leadership to provide constitutionally adequate medical care in the absence of a receivership, and Defendants have presented no evidence to the contrary."

Henderson went on to write that the receivership will be disbanded once the work is done... which, again, he believes it is not.

[UPDATE 1:40 pm - In a written statement, corrections secretary Matthew Cate says the administration will appeal today's ruling. "While the state is committed to providing a constitutional level of care to inmates," said Cate, "we must do so in an economically viable way. The return of control of inmate medical care to the state is the best way to accomplish this."]

It's been a bumpy few months for relations between the receiver, the Schwarzenegger administration, and Brown. Following calls for the receiver's money requests to be rejected, and a January audit that questioned previous spending decisions by the previous receiver, Schwarzenegger and Brown teamed up to go after proposals for prisoner services that included "yoga rooms."

Today's decision is probably not unexpected, considering Henderson is the judge who created the receivership in the first place. "I look forward with renewed commitment to working collaboratively with state officials and agencies," said Kelso in a written statement, "to achieving our shared goal of improving prison medical and health care."

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new California Politics & Government Desk. He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades, serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and most recently as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. In 2014, he was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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