The head of California’s Corrections and Rehabilitation Department said a brand-new $840 million medical center is proof that federal judges are wrong about health care in the state’s crowded prison system.
Dedicating the California Health Care Facility in Stockton Tuesday morning, Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard said the 1,700-bed complex will provide state-of-the-art care for California’s sickest inmates. “Yet the federal courts question California’s commitment to providing quality care to inmates,” Beard told a 200-person audience. “I ask you this: Does what you see behind me today – is that deliberate indifference?”
The dedication comes less than a week after a panel of federal judges issued its latest order demanding California release 9,600 prisoners by the end of the year in order to comply with a mandatory population cap.
The 51-page ruling read like an exasperated rebuke. The judges wrote the Brown administration has “directly defied this court’s orders,” used “tortured logic” to argue against their rulings,” and shown “repeated failure” to comply. That’s because the panel of judges has been ordering California to reduce its prison population to under 110,000 since 2009. The judges say the health care in the overcrowded prisons is so poor it violates the Constitution.
California’s most recent compliance plan falls more than 4,000 inmates short of achieving that goal by the court’s Dec. 31 deadline.
But Brown and Beard have repeatedly argued that the judges’ focus on population totals misses the point. Walking through the yard of the Stockton facility, Beard said he had invited the three judges to attend the ceremony. “And certainly any time they would want to come and take a tour, we’d be happy to take them,” he said.
The sickest prisoners in California’s prison system will soon be treated at the Stockton complex. “That means we take them out of other institutions in this state,” Beard told reporters. “Who no longer have those high-acuity people to treat. So that means they can actually have more inmates in that facility, and still handle the medical and mental health needs. Because we have consolidated those needs here at the Stockton facility.”
Brown is vowing to appeal the ruling all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but he has also submitted a plan to lawmakers to reach those benchmarks.
Another setback for California’s prison system: on Monday, a federal judge ordered the state to move thousands of inmates out of two Central Valley prisons, due to the high risk of contracting the fungal infection called valley fever.
Beard said he’s worried the latest ruling could “destabilize” the state’s attempts to reduce the prison population.