Bill for New Prison Hospitals Defeated

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In Sacramento today, Senate Republicans defeated a bill that would have allocated $7 billion for new hospitals in state prisons. A court-appointed federal receiver in charge of improving inmates' access to mental and medical care had asked for the money. KPCC's Julie Small reports that the legislature's refusal to make that money available could boomerang on the state.

Julie Small: California's been under a federal court order to improve medical and mental care for inmates for more than a decade. Overcrowded and understaffed prisons are a big part of the problem.

That's why the court-appointed federal receiver, Clark Kelso, asked for $7 billion to build 10,000 new prison medical beds. But that didn't fly with Republicans.

Dave Cogdill: That sounds like a heck of a lot of money to me.

Small: Senate Republican minority leader Dave Cogdill voted against the plan because he says it gives the federal receiver a $7 billion line of credit, when the state's already facing a $15 billion deficit.

Cogdill: We've certainly questioned the dollars involved here and the projections that are being made, and we've been told that, basically, "trust us."

Small: Cogdill also said the plan should be integrated with other plans to reduce overcrowding in state prisons, including a pending settlement that calls for reducing the prison population. But the bill's author, Democratic Senator Mike Machado, told Republicans they were making the situation worse.

Mike Machado: Members, whether we approve this bill or not, the courts will get the funding for 10,000 beds. The difference is whether the funding comes from the general fund, or lease revenue bonds.

Small: The federal receiver has the power to take money out of the state's general fund. And with the bill defeated, that's just what he'll do. Clark Kelso's already directed the state's finance department to set aside $7 billion for his prison hospital plan.

One hundred million this year, and over 3 billion next year. That'll drive next year's deficit up to $18 billion. In a letter to the state's finance director, Kelso said the move was regrettable, but he could not sid idly by "while the state continues its pattern of prevarication."