A federal judge who seized control of California’s prison medical care six years ago has rejected the state’s motion to regain control of all of prison medical care within six months.
US District Judge Thelton Henderson observed Wednesday that although medical care has vastly improved, California officials “have not always cooperated with and sometimes actively sought to block” improvement to care. The judge did lay out a blueprint, though not a timeline, for returning control back to the state.
The judge’s order requires state officials to demonstrate that inmates are able to get adequate medical care at each of California’s 33 prisons. It will be up to court-appointed medical experts to evaluate whether prisons make the cut. Ongoing medical audits by the Office of Inspector General will also factor in to that assessment.
Judge Hendeson will also measure how well the state maintains improvements initiated by the court-appointed federal receiver after it regains control for various areas of medical care.
Two years ago, federal receiver Clark Kelso returned responsibility for medical guarding and transportation back to the state. Nancy Kincaid, a spokeswoman for the receiver, says the state has managed those tasks well. Kelso plans to return another area of responsibility to the state in a month.
In a statement he wrote, “Our focus now is on finishing the job and ensuring the state is able to sustain the many improvements in the system.”
Judge Henderson also ruled it will be possible to transfer responsibility to a special master or court monitor who would have less authority than the federal receiver to enforce medical standards, before the state achieves full compliance.
A prison's medical care will be considered constitutional when it achieves at least a 75 percent overall score on the OIG's medical audit and 2 of the 3 medical experts deem the institution's meeting inmate's minimal medical needs.
In a July 2012 report, the OIG found that 29 institutions’ overall scores on medical audits met or exceeded the 75 percent minimum score.