- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration told a federal judge Monday that a court receivership over the state’s prisons is no longer needed.

Paul Mello, an attorney for the state, said the receiver has accomplished his purpose of improving medical conditions for inmates. But he also criticized a proposal to spend billions for new prison health centers.

U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson created the receivership in 2006 to take control of health care in the state’s 33 adult prisons after finding conditions violated inmates’ constitutional rights. Inmates were dying of neglect or malpractice at the rate of about one each week, the court found.

Mello argued that receiver J. Clark Kelso has made “dramatic improvements,” but overstepped federal law by seeking $8 billion from the state to build medical and mental health centers for 10,000 inmates.

Kelso’s proposal to siphon state money for seven new health centers is prohibited by the federal Prison Litigation Reform Act, Mello argued. Moreover, the centers aren’t needed, particularly as a federal three-judge panel is expected to order the state to cut its inmate population by about one-third to ease crowding, he said.

The judges tentatively ruled that overcrowding was the leading cause of poor health care delivery to inmates and that reducing the population was crucial to restoring adequate service.

Mello said the state has signaled its willingness to continue improving inmate health care on its own by spending $2 billion this year alone to treat prisoners.

Kelso’s attorney, James Brosnahan, countered that the state increased spending and improved conditions only because the receiver insisted.

The state stopped cooperating last summer as its financial condition deteriorated and lawmakers balked at approving bonds to pay for prison medical construction. But state officials have offered no plan for how they would take over the receiver’s responsibilities, he noted.

“They don’t have a plan. They don’t have an endgame except to attack the receiver,” he told the judge.

The judge made no immediate decision following a nearly hour-long hearing in his San Francisco courtroom.

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