Throw Away the Key!

A few months ago, a set of lawsuits challenging the state's Prison Healthcare systemcame into the public eye, apparently claiming that the overcrowding andother adverse conditions in California's prisons were leading tootherwise avoidable deaths among inmates. In response, the courtappointed a receiver to try and reform the system, vesting thatreceiver with copious amounts of power and zero accountability.

Naturally, all of this was done despite the fact that California hadneither the time nor the money to deal with such overzealous purging,and probably would have been better ignored.

Several months and countless dollars later, it appears thatthe state is finally finding its feet again. The Los Angeles Times reportsthat "Paul Mello, representing the state, told U.S. District JudgeTheltonHenderson that there has been a 'virtual elimination of allegedpreventable deaths' due to shoddy prison health services." Excellent,one might say. California's most dangerous and socially maladjustedresidents can now frolic about with the knowledge that they will notdie from pesky little illnesses. Congratulations on wasting our money,now let's all go home.

Except, of course, for the fact that the receiver is not giving in.In fact, the receiver has been weathering criticism not just in legalchannels, but also by Attorney General Jerry Brown, who correctlycontends that "the receivership is wasting taxpayer money." This comeson the heels of a motion filed by J. Clark Kelso, the receiver himself,claiming that California needs to spend more taxpayer money on prisonhospital construction. You know, because we all know that Californiacan afford massive spending projects right now and the only reasonwe're not paying for it is because of our heartless voter base. Right.

And not only that, but Kelso is asking that the state be held incontempt of court if it doesn't release a full $250 million to fund hispet project. In response, thankfully, the state has shifted gears,asking that the health care system be taken out from under a receiverand handed over to a "special master," who would lack the capacity tohire and fire people, and would simply supervise, rather than dictate,policy.

One rationale for this change of policy is that, according tothe State, California now spends more than twice as much money perinmate as the federal government, and almost three times as much asother states like Texas. Naturally, Kelso has a counterargument that heis simply doing what the court asked him to do - namely, find problemsand force the State to fix them. This, he claims, is being done by thebook.

Unfortunately for him, the more important question is not whetherhe is doing his job right, but whether the state can afford to preservehis job, and at the point where he's dragging it down with litigationfees and with a threat to spend a quarter of a billion dollars onhospitals in which the state can't afford, and which Gov.Schwarzenegger has already announced his intention to cut back, thereis clearly something wrong.

California's people have no obligation torespect the zealotry of prison watchdogs, and given the currentfinancial situation, nor should they treat the complaints of thesefigures as anything but apologias for criminality. Kelso should be deprived of the ability to railroad spending past the stateso that we can lock up the treasury and throw away the key.