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Attorney General Brown Urges Reversal of Decision Forcing California to Make $250 million "Down-Payment" for Massive Prison Plan

Monday, December 8, 2008
Contact: (415) 703-5837

SAN FRANCISCO– California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today urged the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to reverse a lower court decision requiring California to make a $250 million down-payment on a massive $8 billion prison-construction project, arguing that the decision is in “blatant violation” of federal law.

“This decision is in blatant violation of federal law, which forbids federal judges from ordering states to build new state prisons,” Attorney General Brown said. “This is particularly unacceptable at a time when California is facing a $25 billion deficit,” Brown added.

Brown also called on the Federal appeals court to order the release of hundreds of pages of secret documents that are contained in an earlier version of the Receiver’s plan.

While Federal Prison Receiver Clark Kelso has acknowledged that his project “will result in the construction of 7 million square feet of new medical facilities—the equivalent of 70 Wal-Mart stores,” he has released to the public only one version of his plans. An earlier version -- which describes in graphic detail important elements of the $8 billion construction program -- has been kept under court seal.

Attorney General’s Filing

In August of this year, the court appointed Receiver filed a motion seeking to compel Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Controller John Chiang to allocate $8 billion from the California Treasury over the next 5 years, including $3 billion in this fiscal year, for prison healthcare facility construction. Attorney General Brown has argued that the federal court does not have the legal authority to mandate state prison construction, nor has the Receiver justified the massive sums called for in his plan.

“In ordering the state to fund the Receiver’s massive prison construction program, the district court clearly violated federal law, and its decision must be reversed,” Attorney General Brown wrote in his filing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), approved by Congress in 1996, bars federal courts from ordering states to fund state prison construction.

The Receiver’s $8 billion demand includes construction of 7 new prison healthcare facilities containing 10,000 new beds for prisoners with acute and long-term health needs. The plan would also improve healthcare and mental health facilities at each of the 33 existing state prisons.

The State of California has acknowledged the need to provide constitutionally adequate healthcare. The state, however, argues that the Receiver has not complied with the Prison Litigation Reform Act, which requires that any prison remediation plan that a court orders “is narrowly drawn, extends no further than necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right, and is the least intrusive means necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right.” (18 U.S.C. § 3626(a)(1)(A)).

State Has Made Progress on Health Care

One of the fundamental problems in fulfilling the state’s constitutional healthcare mandate was the lack of qualified medical staff to treat the inmates. According to his own reports, the Receiver will have 90% of nursing and physician positions filled by January 2009, up from 50% when he was appointed.

The Receiver has also begun to change the process by which inmates are assessed and how they are treated, actions which address the deficiencies that led to appointment of the Receiver.

These steps have significantly improved the level of care provided to prisoners.

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