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Throw Away the Key!

by Mytheos Holt, published

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

Naturally, all of this was done despite the fact that California had neither 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 that the state is finally finding its feet again. The Los Angeles Times reports that "Paul Mello, representing the state, told U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson that there has been a 'virtual elimination of alleged preventable deaths' due to shoddy prison health services." Excellent, one might say. California's most dangerous and socially maladjusted residents can now frolic about with the knowledge that they will not die 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 legal channels, but also by Attorney General Jerry Brown, who correctly contends that "the receivership is wasting taxpayer money." This comes on the heels of a motion filed by J. Clark Kelso, the receiver himself, claiming that California needs to spend more taxpayer money on prison hospital construction. You know, because we all know that California can afford massive spending projects right now and the only reason we'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 in contempt of court if it doesn't release a full $250 million to fund his pet project. In response, thankfully, the state has shifted gears, asking that the health care system be taken out from under a receiver and handed over to a "special master," who would lack the capacity to hire and fire people, and would simply supervise, rather than dictate, policy.

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

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

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

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