A doctor at California Medical Facility was paid more than $410,000 last year, and a registered nurse at High Desert State Prison made nearly $236,000. Both were more than twice the statewide average, reports the Associated Press. Compensation for medical providers has soared in the California prison system since a federal judge seized control of inmate health care in 2006 and appointed an overseer with the power to hire and set pay levels.
The medical hiring and salary increases have helped lead to an improvement in inmate care, but it has increased the bill for taxpayers too. It has led to criticism that “receiver” J. Clark Kelso has provided a “Cadillac” level of care for convicted felons. A state review found that only Texas pays its state prison doctors more that California. “The problem that we had is that the receiver was not accountable to anybody,” said former state Sen. George Runner. “So the receiver could just do or choose to spend whatever amount of money he thought was necessary to solve his problem, and unfortunately now the state is stuck with that.” Spending on medical, dental, and mental health care for inmates, now numbering 124,700, has more than doubled over the last decade, from $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2003-04 to a projected $2.3 billion this year.