Assailing a “business as usual” attitude among California prison officials, a federal judge has ordered Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to take immediate action to resolve a healthcare crisis that kills an average of one California inmate each week, the Los Angeles Times reports. If the judge’s mandates are not carried out, the governor could be ordered into court to face charges of contempt, a humiliating prospect for any political leader. U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson said he would not sit by while officials “twiddle their collective thumbs” as prisoners continue to suffer and die from medical neglect and incompetence.
He told the governor to appoint by next Thursday a top lieutenant to carry out a series of immediate fixes, including steps designed to stem the exodus of doctors and nurses caring for inmates behind bars. Julie Soderlund, a spokeswoman for Schwarzenegger, said the governor “has been and remains committed to making the necessary reforms in our prison healthcare system.” Dr. Peter Farber-Szekrenyi, the new chief of healthcare services, will be the designated czar that the judge called for and will work directly with the governor’s office on reforms. At one prison, Pleasant Valley in Coalinga, there is one doctor for 6,000 inmates.