California is staring down fiscal catastrophe, yet the prison health care czar believes he is wholly immune from the harsh realities of the state budget, saying the crisis is "unfortunate, but irrelevant."
This czar, a court-appointed prison receiver who is unaccountable to the people, has proposed $8 billion of wildly excessive prison health care construction complete with fitness centers for "wellness promotion," music and art therapy, and landscaping to veil the institutional nature of prisons. A version of the plan contemplated yoga rooms for prisoners.
Beyond construction, the prison facilities would cost roughly $2 billion a year to operate, or $200,000 per inmate.
If California had all the money in the world, perhaps we could consider this. But programs for schoolchildren and health care for seniors are on the chopping block - in addition to many state programs. This massive plan simply doesn't square with the belt-tightening taking place.
What's needed is a strong dose of fiscal common sense and an end to the prison receivership and its utopian prison construction program.
This receivership and its plan violate a 1996 federal law, the Prison Litigation Reform Act. The law prohibits judges from ordering the construction of new prisons and says that remedies should be the "least intrusive" possible. The receiver's plan is anything but the least intrusive possible.
The Bee argues that despite massive and unprecedented prison health care spending, we need the receiver's $8 billion plan to meet the health care needs of inmates. We don't disagree that the state has to provide care that meets constitutional standards and is not cruel and unusual. But constitutional care doesn't mean yoga rooms and music therapy.
The state has taken significant steps to improve inmate health care. California has increased health care staffing and filled almost 90 percent of physician positions, and improved emergency response and health care screenings.
California has increased per-inmate health care spending from $7,601 per year in 2005-06 to $13,778 in 2007-08. Spending in federal prisons will be $4,413 per inmate in 2008-09. The average cost of health care coverage for a person in California in 2008 was $4,906.
Nevertheless, the receiver continues to insist on a massive program that would lead to the construction of facilities and amenities that go well beyond standards required by the Constitution and federal law.
The time has come to terminate the receivership and return control of prison health care to the state.