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Brown Calls on Court to Terminate Prison Receivership

Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Contact: (415) 703-5837

SACRAMENTO – Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today called on the federal district court to terminate an “unaccountable prison receivership” and its extravagant $8 billion prison construction plan because both violate federal law.

“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,” Attorney General Brown said. “The federal receivership has turned into its own autonomous government operating outside the normal checks and balances of state and federal law,” Brown added.

The Receiver’s $8 billion plan calls for adding 7 new prison health care facilities containing 10,000 new beds for prisoners -- that’s 7 million square feet, or the size of 70 new Walmarts. The plan would also renovate space at each of the 33 existing state prisons.

A draft of the plan also includes yoga rooms, horticultural therapy, extensive landscaping to obscure prison fences, music and art therapy, regulation basketball courts, quiet rooms, an emphasis on natural light and high ceilings, and a so-called “treatment mall.” A subsequent draft contains most of the same features without the graphic detail.

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. This extravagant plan comes at a time when California is facing a fiscal catastrophe and funding for school children is being slashed.

The Termination Motion
In a motion filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the Attorney General urged the court to terminate the Receivership and his plan for the construction of prison healthcare facilities – because the Prison Litigation Reform Act prohibits judges from ordering the construction of state prison facilities and limits court-imposed remedies to the “least intrusive” possible.

In place of the $8 billion plan, the Attorney General called for returning the prison health care system to the State and the appointment of an interim Special Master to conduct hearings and make proposed findings of fact.

Background
California is under Federal court order to provide health care that is not “deliberately indifferent” to the health needs of prisoners. The State of California is committed to providing such care.

The State – under the receivership – has taken significant steps to improve inmate health care. California has increased health care staffing and filled almost 90 percent of open physician positions, improved emergency response, professional standards, contracting systems, and health care screenings.

In total, California 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.

Nevertheless, the Receiver continues to insist on a massive program that would lead to the construction of facilities and amenities that go well-beyond standards required by the Constitution and federal law. The Prison Litigation Reform Act, signed into law in 1996, forbids judges from ordering construction of state prison facilities, and requires that any plan that a court orders be “narrowly drawn, extend “no further than necessary” to correct the violation of the Federal right, and be the “least intrusive means necessary.” (18 U.S.C. § 3626(a)(1)(A))

On August 25, 2008, the Receiver filed a motion to hold the Governor 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 November 5.

Subsequently, Brown appealed that decision to the Ninth Circuit, which stayed the district court order. The Ninth Circuit will hear oral argument in the case on February 12, 2009.

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