Convinced that California officials cannot solve the health care crisis in the prison system, a federal judge yesterday transferred control of the $1.2-billion inmate medical care system to a receiver, the Los Angeles Times says. U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson granted receiver Bob Sillen extraordinary powers to do whatever he deems necessary to raise prison health care to a “constitutionally adequate standard.” Sillen will have the power to set budgets; hire, fire, and discipline staff; make contracts; write and discard policies; and decide how to spend every dollar used to care for 168,000 inmates in 33 prisons. If a state law, regulation, or contract – including labor agreements – blocks his way, Sillen may ask Henderson to waive it.
Experts said this is the first time such a vast correctional operation has been placed under a federal receiver. Dental care, mental health services, and substance abuse programs are the only services not under Sillen’s control. Henderson seized control of the system in a 2001 class-action suit over prison health care. Sillen, the top health official in Santa Clara County for 26 years, was picked from among four finalists identified during a nationwide search. He will take over April 17. Sillen, 63, said he viewed the job as “a mission and a cause,” saying Californians should be “ashamed that this level of care – or non-care – is being rendered in our prisons.”