According to Bob Egelko's reporting in this morning's SF Chron, Governor Schwarzenegger has disavowed a deal negotiated between Clark Kelso, the received named by Judge Thelton Henderson to oversee the creation of constitutionally adequate medical care in California's super overcrowded prisons, and Mathew Cate, the Director of the feckless Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Under the compromise, Kelso and the court would reduce the 10 year 4 to 8 billion dollar hospital construction plan, to a 4 year 1 to 2 billion dollar plan while moving forward to restoring state control over prison medical care.
This compromise made sense. No one really wants to see California spend 8 billion building prison hospitals while ignoring the health deficits of millions of poor and working class Californians. The hope would be that four years from now, the state would be on track to a reduced prison population that would no longer require the additional 2 to 6 billion in new investment.
With the Governor disavowing the plan in favor of his new found budget cutting zeal, it will be up to the federal courts to decide how much to spend and when. In the meantime, we need the competitors for the 2010 California gubernatorial race to address how they would solve this problem.
The core of a more promising approach is to follow Massachusetts and make California the health provider for all poor Californians. This population would include nearly 100 percent of prison inmates but being in prison would no longer be a requirement for having a right to health care. In this system the state could build new hospitals for the use of all Californians and use prison (and parole) as an opportunity to drive down the state's health care costs by making prisoners healthier. You already cannot smoke, drink or take drugs while you are in prison. Introducing healthy diets and regular exercise could be the new form of "tough on crime" in California!