Up to 7,000 sick California inmates must be transferred to prisons with access to better medical care, a court-appointed receiver said in a court filing Tuesday.
Receiver Clark Kelso is in charge of improving inmate medical care but has become frustrated with the pace of reform. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and lawmakers have so far refused to provide the $8 billion he seeks to build new medical facilities.
In the court documents, he said physically and mentally ill inmates cannot get proper care at four isolated prisons in the Central Valley. Those prisons are Avenal State Prison, California State Prison in Corcoran, the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison in Corcoran, and Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga.
The receiver's office recommended the inmates be shifted to prisons closer to urban areas, including those in Vacaville and Soledad. Tens of thousands of healthy inmates at those prisons would be displaced to make room.
"There seems to be a feeling by the governor and attorney general that there are no consequences to not building (medical) facilities," John Hagar, the receiver's chief of staff, said in an interview. "We're going to begin moving the receivership in a somewhat different direction, given the impasse."
As it awaits a court decision on its transfer proposal, the receiver's office is adopting an emergency plan to deal with a backlog of inmates seeking care at the four prisons. That includes adding medical staff and erecting military-style hospital tents to handle the overflow.
The receiver's office proposed the mass transfers in a Dec. 8 letter to state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Matthew Cate. Hagar said the department has not yet responded.
Corrections officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
The transfer demand is the latest development in the long-running legal battle over inmate health care in California's 33 adult prisons. A federal court has ruled the quality of care unconstitutional and placed a receiver in charge of finding solutions.
Kelso's solution is for the state to sell $8 billion in bonds to build seven medical facilities to treat some 10,000 inmates. The repayment would be spread over 25 years and cost California taxpayers $14 billion by the time the bonds are repaid.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers, particularly Republicans, have recoiled at the cost, especially as the state faces a $42 billion deficit through June 2010.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has set a Feb. 12 hearing to consider letting a federal court judge hold Schwarzenegger in contempt for refusing to turn over the money. The receiver has sought an immediate $250 million for a down payment.