Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Back to the future: California showdown recalls Ruiz in Texas

When state prison systems and federal judges collide, typically the guys in the black robes come out on top - ask Judge William Wayne Justice and everyone involved in Texas' Ruiz case.

California has chosen to test that truism, defying a federal court order to expand prison hospital capacity or reduce the inmate population. Reports the San Francisco Chronicle:
The lawyer representing California in a lawsuit over prison health care said Monday that state officials aren't ready to comply with a federal judge's order to turn over $250 million for new hospitals for inmates, despite the possibility of a contempt-of-court order against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson ordered Schwarzenegger and state Controller John Chiang on Oct. 8 to tell him how soon they would provide the money, the first installment in an $8 billion construction plan that a court-appointed manager drew up to raise the prison health system to constitutional standards.

Henderson said at an earlier hearing that he was prepared to hold Schwarzenegger and Chiang in contempt, with fines against the state of as much as $2 million a day, unless they turn over $250 million in prison funding that the Legislature has already approved. But at Monday's hearing in San Francisco, Deputy Attorney General Daniel Powell said the state is not legally required to follow such an order and has no immediate plans to do so.

"This court has no authority to order construction of prisons," Powell told Henderson. He said state officials must review the construction plans, decide whether they comply with legal restrictions and seek specific approval from the Legislature.

If the state maintains that position, Henderson said, he'll go "full speed ahead" with contempt proceedings. Later in the day, he ordered state officials to transfer $250 million to the prison health system's federal overseer by Nov. 5 or face a contempt hearing a week later.

"Despite the progress that has been made, the health care system remains in a state of crisis," the judge said at the hearing.
California's got a worse overcrowding problem than Texas, even, with more prisoners stuffed into space designed for fewer inmates. But it's their healthcare system that's drawn down the wrath of a federal judge, and unfortunately Texas already had big problems in that regard even before Hurricane Ike blew down UTMB's Galveston operation like the Big Bad Wolf. I never got a great answer about what's happening with post-Ike prison healthcare. Readers with any insight on that topic, please let us know in the comments.) Thirty percent of Texas prison inmates are past clients of the mental health system, the number of sick, elderly inmates is rising, and more inmates die in Texas prisons than in California - about 2,000 over one recent four year stretch.

All this happened because California's Legislature refused to pay for an adequate health system. Given chronic understaffing problems in Texas and the sorry state of our prison health system (and UTMB), I can't help but wonder if Texas might face a similar showdown someday over essentially the same shortcomings once there's no longer a Texan appointing the US Attorney General?


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why it costs $8 billion to build a hospital. Couldn't it be done less expensively? Do companies always have to take the government and create huge profit margins? I don't blame Arnold for not wanting to hand over the money. Also, is this company going to do it in an environmentally sound way?

Anonymous said...

They need multiple hospitals in different parts of the state. I think the judge wants seven overall.

Anonymous said...

So they build nice hospitals and then can't afford medical staff to run them. It still doesn't help the overcrowding or the budget problems. It's time to look at alternative's to address the overcrowding.

Also what happens really, if the state can't afford it. Who gets jailed after Arnold?