The turn-around state? Does California have one of the finest prison systems in the nation?

Those of us that deal with CDCr absolutely know better- all California has done is play a massive game of Chess through realignment…moving prisoners to county jails that were already over burdened, to out of state private prison facilities where there is now furor over prisoners being kept in ‘rest homes’ among the elderly; as for medical care…there is STILL a serious lack in medical care and qualified doctors. California has done nothing to actually SOLVE the many issues inside its prisons, resorting to playing games with prisoners LIVES.


Jonathan Simon, professor of law

Jonathan Simon

As readers of this blog know, Gov. Jerry Brown of California has combined leadership on reducing California’s bloated prison population with relentless attacks on the courts whose orders have made that badly needed “realignment” political possible.  Still even I was surprised by the air of unreality to the Governor’s dual press conference yesterday, backing up the state’s legal filings yesterday seeking an end to the federal court oversight of California’s prison health system, and a respite from its prison population cap (listen to the California Report’s coverage here).

We’ve gone from serious constitutional problem (sic) to one of the finest prison systems in the United States.  Most of the people get far better care for mental health problems or physical well being inside prison then they’ll get when released on the streets. (Cecilio Padilla’s reporting on Fox 40 here)

The state’s main correctional problem now, according to the governor, is the court’s oversight and lawyers.

While acknowledging court intervention had forced vast improvements to a system that was in crisis, Brown said overly intrusive judges had unleashed a feeding frenzy of highly paid attorneys “running around the prisons looking for problems.”(Paige St. John in the LA Times here)

I have not had time to read the state’s legal filings (almost done grading, almost) but these claims are remarkable and possibly outrageous.  First let’s remember the context.  Judge Thelton Henderson put the state’s prison health care system in receivership in 2005 finding that after three years the state had accomplished very little toward a settlement agreement for improving health care and that a prisoner a week was dying of unmet medical needs.  In 2009 a three-judge court ordered the population cap finding that chronic hyper overcrowding (with many units housing 300 percent of their already optimistic design capacity) was exacerbating the medical and mental health problems and making improvements impossible.  Then Attorney General Brown appealed to the US Supreme Court.  In Brown v. Plata (he was now Governor) the US Supreme Court upheld that order against all the same arguments the Governor is once again making.  Describing the lack of health care as approximating “torture” in its significance, Justice Kennedy wrote:

Just as a prisoner may starve if not fed, he or she may suffer or die if not provided adequate medical care. A prison that deprives prisoners of basic sustenance, including adequate medical care, is incompatible with the concept of human dignity and has no place in civilized society.

Continue reading @ The Berkeley Blog



2 thoughts on “The turn-around state? Does California have one of the finest prison systems in the nation?

  1. Preventable Deaths:
    California’s prisons were designed to meet the medical needs of a population at 100% of design capacity and so have only half the clinical space needed to treat the current population. … A correctional officer testified that, in one prison, up to 50 sick inmates may be held together in a 12–by 20–foot cage for up to five hours awaiting treatment. …. The number of staff is inadequate, and prisoners face significant delays in access to care. A prisoner with severe abdominal pain died after a 5–week delay in referral to a specialist; a prisoner with “constant and extreme” chest pain died after an 8–hour delay in evaluation by a doctor; and a prisoner died of testicular cancer after a “failure of MDs to work up for cancer in a young man with 17 months of testicular pain.”


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