Nearly three years after California prison officials promised to improve inmate medical care, the state is facing new criticism that many of its doctors are incompetent, leading to costly lawsuits and deaths. Documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times show that one in five prison doctors has been disciplined by the California Medical Board or sued for malpractice – a rate almost five times the state average. Some prison physicians have histories of criminal convictions, cocaine or alcohol addiction and a loss of privileges at hospitals.
The issue will be discussed today by two state senators at a Capitol hearing. Despite new leadership and a governor who says he is committed to reforming corrections, the state has weathered allegations of inmate abuse, corruption and other scandals that have prompted a federal judge to threaten a takeover of California’s 32 prisons. The disclosures about doctors come as health care costs are soaring. The Department of Corrections will spend more than $900 million treating 164,000 convicts this year–one fifth of the prison budget.