Attorney General Brown Urges Appeals Court to Prevent Receiver from Commandeering $8 Billion from State Treasury for Prison Construction

Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

Sacramento – Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today urged a federal appeals court to block the court-appointed Receiver from “commandeering $8 billion” from the shrinking California Treasury for extravagant prison construction.

“Federal law does not allow the Receiver to commandeer the finances of the state to spend $8 billion for unaccountable and extravagant prison construction,” Attorney General Brown said. “The court should rein in the Receiver, who is now spending more than $2 billion per year on inmate health care. This is almost $14,000 per inmate and nearly double what it was just three years ago.”

In a reply brief filed today with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Attorney General Brown describes the fundamental legal errors that the court-appointed Receiver has made in attempting to force the state to fund his prison construction program against its will.

Brown argues that the Prison Litigation Reform Act, signed into law in 1996, bars federal judges from ordering the construction of new prisons and that any relief must involve the least intrusive means necessary.

A just-released draft of the Receiver’s plan, however, demonstrates the unbridled scope of the Receiver’s plan.

The plan calls for the construction of 7 new prisons with 10,000 new beds -- the size of 70 Walmarts. It envisions yoga rooms, regulation basketball courts with electronic bingo boards, music and art therapy, horticultural therapy, and landscaping which shields fences from inmates’ view. While some details have been deleted in a subsequent draft, the fundamental structure and many of the extravagant amenities remain.

Brown argues that to force such an $8 billion plan on California against its will—particularly at a time when the state must make huge budget cuts to programs including health care, infrastructure, and schools—violates federal law and the state’s sovereign immunity under the 11th Amendment to the Constitution.

The appellate court, therefore, should reverse the District Court’s order of a $250 million down-payment toward the $8 billion plan.

The State of California has acknowledged the need to provide health care that meets Constitutional standards, and has taken a series of steps to improve prison health care. This includes increasing the numbers of qualified medical staff at prisons and improving the process by which inmates are assessed and how they are treated.

Under the Receivership, healthcare spending has increased from $7,601 per inmate in 2005-2006 to $13,778 per inmate in 2007-2008. That’s far more than the average citizen in California pays for healthcare coverage.

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 authority to mandate state prison construction, nor has the Receiver justified the massive sums called for in his plan.

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PDF icon Plata Reply Brief Jan 21128.19 KB