An initial look into the California Prison health and dental care system led The Maven on an odyssey that revealed wreckage and carnage so vast that She’s going to devote the next several blogs to this topic.
Let’s begin with a brief narrative of the problem: California’s prison population is e-freakin-normous! It’s grown from 20,000 inmates in the mid-1970’s to over 170,000 today, an increase of 850 percent. Almost predictable, was the lack of growth in infrastructure in tandem with the population explosion. Prisons designed to house 80,000 inmates now hold twice that number.
Now, as all you legal scholars know, the 8th Amendment to our Constitution guarantees that prisoners in the U.S. are entitled to health and dental care. However, the scope of this care is subject to interpretation by each State. To meet their interpretation of this requirement our friends in California are spending about $14,000 per inmate per year on healthcare – twice the amount in Federal Prisons. Total expenditures per inmate in California are $49,000 (nearly twice the national average)
- The largess stems from a 2001 class action lawsuit alleging inadequate medical care in all CA prisons. It claimed that every 6 days an inmate died as a result of such inadequacies. So, in 2005 the prison health system was placed in receivership by Judge Thelton E. Henderson to correct its Titanic failures.
The first receivership lasted just shy of 2 years, during which, many clinical vacancies were filled along with a host of more highly trained personnel. This was accomplished by what is euphemistically called “improved hiring practices” (can you say higher salaries?).
However, Judge Henderson was impatient with the progress and appointed another receiver. In his zeal to “improve” the system, the new receiver, planned to build seven medical facilities for inmates throughout the State, and demanded a Federal Judge to seize 8 Billion dollars from the States treasury to pay for this effort (California’s current budget projects a deficit in 2009 of $14.8 billion). Here’s a breakdown of the projects:
$6 billion: Seven new prison medical facilities
$1.1 billion: New dental facilities
$900 million: Renovations of existing medical facilities
Source: California Prison Health Care Receivership Corp.
- Luckily others found this hard to swallow with common sense Californians and the governor putting the brakes on the $8 billion
medspamedical facilities. State Attorney General Jerry Brown went so far as to point out that the receiver’s proposal was “the most extravagant proposal for prison health care we’re ever seen in the United States.”
His bazillion-dollar-happy-place-hospital thwarted, the same receiver is now making noise about a pared down plan which would only cost around $2 billion.
The story gets even more interesting. The Maven will explore the following questions in the next post:
How did the CA prison system get so bloated?
What kind of medical and dental services do CA inmates receive?
Why does it cost California twice the national average to provide services?