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Why is the Federal Receiver for prison medical care $300 million over budget?

Prisoners at the California Institution for Men in Chino line up, waiting for medical appointments.
Prisoners at the California Institution for Men in Chino line up, waiting for medical appointments. Mike Roe/KPCC

According to figures from the Legislative Analyst's Office, the Federal Receiver in charge of California's prison medical care is running $295.4 million over budget in the current fiscal year. 

The receivership — essentially an outside individual hired by the federal court to bring the state into compliance with the Constitution — has been in place since 2005. Receiver Clark Kelso, in the job since 2008, is tasked with updating and improving the prison system's medical care. His annual budget runs at about $1.5 billion — meaning he's currently about 20 percent over. 

California Correctional Health Care Services Spokeswoman Nancy Kincaid says that it's not so much that the department is overbudget, as that it was underfunded to begin with. "We've never been funded to the level we've needed to be," she says. Kincaid says the department has prioritized keeping care costs down, while trying to bring a massive system into compliance with court orders.

Meanwhile, the California Department of Corrections' numbers show they're currently on budget. In past years, the CDCR has returned to the legislature for additional funds. 

Closer examination of the Receiver's budget, however, shows that California Correctional Health Care Services is paying for some things that generally fall to CDCR: specifically, the Receiver spent $46 million on custody staff — traditionally the responsibility of the prison system. 

CDCR Press Secretary Jeffrey Callison says the Receiver took on the security costs associated with medical appoitnments because "it's a more efficient way of doing business."

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