Court-appointed monitor J. Clark Kelso (photo: Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press)
One down, 33 to go.
Nine years after a federal court took control of health care at all of California’s prisons because of deplorable conditions, Folsom State Prison has been provisionally returned to the state. “This is the beginning of a significant movement of the case,” court-appointed monitor J. Clark Kelso told the Los Angeles Times.
Another 10 prisons are expected to be inspected by September but there is no timetable for clearance. U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson has indicated he will end federal receivership once all 34 prisons are approved and remain up to par for a year.
Folsom and two other prisons, the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad and the California Rehabilitation Center at Norco, got the green light from the state Office of Inspector General (OIG), but Kelso put both of them on hold.
One wonders about the different standards used by the IG and Kelso because the monitor told the Times that Norco’s “condition is so bad we all assumed it would be closed.” State Senator Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) described it as vermin-infested.
The receivership was established (pdf) by Judge Henderson after a class-action lawsuit in 2001 over the abysmal quality of care in California prisons. The state settled the suit by promising to clean things up. The court was not satisfied with the state’s progress and revved up the receivership in 2005. Henderson put a monitor, who reported to him, in control of the system.
In 2006, the anecdotal horror stories about state prison medical conditions was quantified in a stirring way when it became known that one inmate a week was dying of treatable ailments. The new monitor proposed $8 billion in construction and renovation of medical facilities to treat prisoners, much of it to be paid for by Californians.
That didn’t happen.
The monitor was replaced by the current monitor, who made sweeping changes that have improved conditions systemwide but in a less ambitious fashion, often to the consternation of prison rights advocates. The state spent $2 billion on new medical facilities and doubled the health care budget, according to the Sacramento Bee.
It didn’t hurt that the courts forced the state to dramatically reduce prison overcrowding. Criminal laws were changed, sentences were reduced and county jails became a more popular destination point. The prison population shrank and preventable deaths dropped 49% between 2006 and 2013.
So, what does it take for a prison to pass the federal test? The inspector general graded Folsom (pdf) based on 13 indicators: 11 primary (clinical) and two secondary (administrative). Folsom scores for clinical stuff were three “proficient,” five “adequate” and three “inadequate.” The two administrative scores were “proficient” and “inadequate.”