Attorney General Brown Opposes Federal Receiver's $8 Billion Contempt Motion
SAN FRANCISCO– California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today filed a motion in federal court to oppose Federal Receiver Clark Kelso’s motion to hold California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Controller John Chiang in contempt for failing to release $8 billion in state funds for a massive prison healthcare facilities construction project.
“Last year, the Legislature approved $7.4 billion in prison construction funds. That money hasn’t even been spent yet, and the Receiver wants $8 billion more,” said Attorney General Brown. “We simply can’t afford to keep throwing billions of dollars of public money into our state correctional system under the veil of secrecy. Once we spend the billions already allocated to improving healthcare in our prisons, then we can determine if more is needed.”
In August, Federal Prison Receiver Clark Kelso filed a motion compelling Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Controller John Chiang to hand over an additional $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 argues that the federal court does not have the legal power to mandate state prison construction and there is no evidence in the record justifying the massive sums sought by the Receiver.
The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), approved by Congress in 1996, makes clear that a court may not force a state to pay for prison construction without its consent. The Receiver’s $8 billion demand includes construction of new prison healthcare facilities containing 10,000 new beds for prisoners with acute and long-term health needs. While California has acknowledged the need to provide constitutionally adequate healthcare, the Receiver has not presented convincing evidence that his wide-ranging plan is “necessary and the least-intrusive” plan required by the U.S. Constitution.
The Receiver has refused to disclose his plan to the public, but according to the Receiver’s motion, “the Facility Improvement project will touch virtually every prison in the state” and “will result in the construction of 7 million square feet of new medical facilities—the equivalent of 70 Wal-Mart stores…”
The $8 billion demand is an enormous increase in state spending for prisons. California built 22 new prisons in 23 years, and prison spending topped almost $10 billion in the 2007-2008 state budget. Last year, the California Legislature authorized $7.4 billion for prison construction and has instituted numerous improvements and reforms to the prison healthcare system. The Attorney General’s motion argues that these improvements should be assessed before allocating more money.
The state has made progress on prison healthcare reform. One of the fundamental problems in fulfilling the state’s constitutional healthcare mandate was the lack of qualified medical staff to treat the inmates. The eighth quarterly report of the Receiver shows that 86% of nursing positions and 81% of physician positions have now been filled. This has significantly improved the level of care provided to prisoners. The state has also implemented upgrades and improvements to its appointment-tracking, medication delivery and laboratory services.