Schwarzenegger: No Money for New Prison Health Care

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Attorney General Jerry Brown plan to ask a federal court to a halt an $8 billion spending plan for prison medical facilities.

Brown and Schwarzenegger administration officials scheduled a news conference Wednesday to announce the move and call for the termination of a court-appointed receiver overseeing reform of California's prison health care system.

"With an $8 billion price tag for a construction plan that includes yoga rooms and landscaped courtyards, it’s clear that the Receiver has lost sight of his lawful charge to bring prison health care up to a constitutionally adequate level of care," Schwarzenegger said. "It’s time to return responsibility to the state—where it belongs—and where there is accountability to the people of California.”

"At a time of real suffering in the state because of budget cutbacks, the receiver has embarked on an orgy of spending -- and most of it in secret not subject to outside scrutiny," Brown told The Associated Press ahead of the news conference.

Cost has been at the heart of the long-running legal battle over inmate health care in California's 33 adult prisons. A federal court has ruled the quality of care unconstitutional.

Brown has argued that a federal judge can't order the money from the state treasury without violating federal law and state sovereignty. But receiver J. Clark Kelso has asked a federal judge to hold Schwarzenegger in contempt of court for refusing to turn over a down payment on his request.

Kelso proposed that the state sell $8 billion in bonds to build seven medical facilities to treat some 10,000 inmates. The repayment would be spread over 25 years and cost California taxpayers $14 billion by the time the bonds are repaid.

Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers have recoiled at the cost, especially as the state faces a $42 billion deficit through June 2010.

“Over the last three years, my administration has worked with the courts and both Receivers to improve health care in our prisons,” said Governor Schwarzenegger. “However, the Receiver has simply gone too far over the last several months, especially considering the economic realities of these times."

Brown criticized early drafts of the receiver's spending proposal, calling it "extravagant" and "unaccountable." He said versions of the plan had called for yoga rooms, music and art therapy rooms, regulation-size basketball courts and landscaping to hide fences.

Those plans did not, however, end up making it into the most recent plan Kelso submitted to the court.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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