The Los Angeles Times gauges the progress made in prison healthcare in California since 2006, when a federal judge put a receiver in charge of the health system. A cascade of court decisions that followed forced the state to begin lowering the country’s largest state prisoner population by almost 25%. The judge who once said California’s dismal prison medical care constituted cruel and unusual punishment now says federal control could soon end. “Many of the goals of the receivership have been accomplished,” U.S. District Judge Thelton E. Henderson wrote last month, ordering up a plan for transferring control back to the state.
Advocates for inmates and some medical officials question whether the system will continue to improve without federal oversight. While San Quentin now has a $135 million showcase clinic, many of California’s 33 prisons are still stuck with outdated or cramped facilities. State officials say subpar doctors have been replaced with board-certified physicians. The state is converting reams of paper files into digital records, and aging computers have been tossed. Prescription drugs are no longer handed out haphazardly by overworked staff members. Corrections Secretary Matt Cate said Gov. Jerry Brown‘s administration, not an unelected federal receiver, should be deciding how the state spends roughly $1.8 billion a year on inmate medical care.