A federal judge has abruptly fired the man he appointed to fix the multimillion-dollar problems of medical care in California’s prisons, after determining the effort was moving too slowly and in too confrontational a manner, reports the Los Angeles Times. Last week, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson revoked the power he had given Robert Sillen and handed it to J. Clark Kelso, a lawyer with experience turning around government institutions in crisis. Kelso told the Times that Sillen had created a set of plans “that were so voluminous that it was very difficult for people to get their arms around them.” He said he would craft a “strategic business plan” in an effort to return prison medical care to state control within four years.
Henderson had appointed Sillen nearly two years ago, giving him broad powers to run prison health care and order additional spending in the state’s overcrowded, understaffed medical wards. Since taking the post, known as the receiver, Sillen dramatically increased state spending on prison medical care, largely by bringing salaries up to market levels. Sillen added about $300 million a year and sought to add another $500 million in next year’s budget. In addition, he requested more than $800 million for new construction over several years and was working on a $3-billion plan for 5,000 long-term medical beds. He jousted with lawmakers and froze out lawyers for inmates. He suggested he should control the hiring of prison guards, and he blasted a $7.7-billion prison reform package approved by the legislature last year. Kelso, 48, a professor at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, is a veteran of state government who worked to unify the court system, took over the California Department of Insurance when its commissioner resigned amid corruption allegations in 2000, and oversaw the state’s troubled information technology program.