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New prison medical facilities unnecessary, analyst says

February 23, 2012 |  3:29 pm

Prison healthcare
California should hold off on building new medical facilities for prison inmates, according to report released Thursday by the legislative analyst’s office.

The report contradicts plans by a court-appointed receiver, who has run the prison health system since a federal judge declared it unconstitutionally inadequate, for $2.3 billion in new clinics and upgrades.

Construction is one of the final sticking points before the state can end six years of federal oversight of inmate medical care. The judge has ordered preparations for returning control to the state, but said the lack of new medical facilities is an ongoing problem.

The state is already building a new facility to provide long-term medical and mental health care in Stockton. But the receiver, J. Clark Kelso, wants to use three former juvenile correctional facilities to provide medical and mental health care to adult inmates, and he wants to spend $750 million on upgrades to existing clinics throughout the 33-prison system.

Although the legislative analyst's office said some medical facilities remain in "poor condition," it questioned whether new construction will be necessary. The prison population is declining thanks to realignment, the process of routing low-level offenders to county jails instead of prisons to reduce overcrowding.

"Realignment may make it possible to close some prisons in the future," the report states. "It would be unwise to make significant infrastructure investments at such facilities at this time."

Kelso has said he's open to evaluating the effect of realignment, but has insisted that some new medical facilities will be necessary.

"I'd like to have clinic space that is actually clinic space and not a converted linen closet," he said in a previous interview. "I'd like to see facilities that are designed to deliver healthcare. It's not an outrageous request, it seems to me."

In addition, the receiver's office said prison medical needs are increasing as the inmate population becomes older. There are 70,000 inmates with chronic health problems such as hypertension, HIV and diabetes, and 50,000 inmates are at least 50 years old.

-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento

Twitter: @chrismegerian

RELATED:

Federal oversight of state prison healthcare to end

Slideshow: Delivering healthcare in California prisons

Inmate advocates question state's commitment to prison healthcare

Photo: A prison guard escorts an inmate through a construction area to get to the medical ward at Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

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