Federal receiver says California prison claim "distorts" his position
This post has been updated to include response from state agency officials.
The overseer of California's prison healthcare said Friday that Gov. Jerry Brown's claim he supports California’s contention that prison crowding no longer is a problem is untrue, and "distorts" and "misrepresents" his true position.
J. Clark Kelso's lengthy status report, filed Friday before a federal judge in San Francisco, gives California credit for continued improvements to its troubled prison system. However, Kelso concludes with a sharp rebuke to Brown's declaration earlier in the month that California is ready to shed federal oversight.
"The State attempts to cite our recognition of the State’s prior compliance with Court orders and our silence regarding particular problems caused by overcrowding as an endorsement of the State’s position that further compliance with the overcrowding order is unnecessary," Kelso wrote. "That distorts the content of our reports and misrepresents the Receiver’s position."
Brown and his lawyers argue that California can deliver constitutionally adequate care to inmates even at crowding levels 45% above what the state's 33 prisons were designed to hold.
[Updated 5:30 p.m. Jan. 25: State corrections officials on Friday again contended crowding no longer impairs medical care. “We have shrunk the prison population by more than 25,000 inmates just since realignment has been in effect, and by more than 43,000 inmates since 2006,” said Deb Hoffman, undersecretary of communications for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. “The Court itself has said that due to the tremendous improvements in prison medical care, the end of the receivership is in sight.”]
Kelso disagreed. He argued that overcrowding continues to be a chronic problem that creates "a cascade of consequences that substantially interferes with the delivery of care."
Kelso said there is inadequate evidence to support Brown's assertion the state can deliver adequate medical care. "Instead," he wrote, "the available evidence supports only the more limited conclusion that significant progress and improvements have been made, without establishing that the constitutional threshold has been crossed."
At this point, California has only asked federal judges to set aside oversight of mental health care in the prisons, and to drop population caps the state admits it cannot meet. Brown said he intends to also file motions seeking to dismiss oversight of prison medical care.
--Paige St. John in Sacramento