Federal Court Starting to Turn Inmate Health Care Back to California


Seven years after federal courts took control of California’s prison health care system, citing care so poor that inmates were dying needlessly, they will start the long process tomorrow of turning operations back over to the state, reports the Los Angeles Times. J. Clark Kelso, the court-appointed overseer, said he could foresee a full resumption of state control in about two years. He will begin with handing over authority to staff and equip new care facilities, including a $1-billion project, and the sensitive job of making sure inmates get to doctors, clinics, and hospitals.

The early moves will tell whether the state has “the will and capacity to maintain improvement,” he says “You’re never going to find out unless you take your hands off the wheel and turn the car over. I’m going to sit over in the passenger seat, and I’m only letting them do a portion of it. They’re not ready to get on the highway yet.” Kelso and Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration reached agreement this week on the transfer of select administrative functions. For now, Kelso will retain control over the delivery of medical care to inmates. Federal Judge Thelton Henderson said in 2005 that “extreme measures” were needed to fix a care network that killed one inmate each week through incompetence or neglect. The state had two such deaths last year, a level Kelso said is within reason: “There are limits to how perfect medicine can be.”

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