California’s prison health care imbroglio received a lot of press this week: Gov. Schwarzenegger and AG Brown filed a motion before federal district judge Thelton Henderson, asking him to remove Clark Kelso, the receiver he appointed to oversee reform of the state’s troubled prison health care system, and return control to the state. The motion, likely directed at higher courts who may be more sympathetic than Henderson, is the latest in what is becoming an increasingly nasty political struggle between the state and Kelso.
The debate between the two has focused recently on the ability of the state to manage the department of corrections (see Aaron’s post below about the receiver’s most recent tri-annual report), but has relegated the proposed reforms themselves to the sidelines. Tucked near the end of articles are lines like the following:
LA Times: State officials estimate that the facilities would cost up to $2.3 billion a year to operate, and draft plans have included exercise rooms, music and art therapy areas, natural light and landscaping. "The environment should be 'holistic,'" Kelso's plan says.
SF Chronicle: An early draft of plans for new construction includes space for activities such as yoga and gymnasiums with basketball courts, among other amenities. [Kelso] said that his office did not propose the yoga space but that it was required under state mental health standards.
It’s easy to characterize any spending on inmates that isn’t strictly orange jumpsuits and cells as frivolous, especially in times of economic crisis when people are more averse than ever to seemingly unnecessary expenditure. But sentences like “the environment should be ‘holistic’” give the impression that we are spending $2.3 billion to turn our prisons into Zen gardens, and, perhaps more than the political posturing, do a disservice to our attempts at substantive debate about what the problems in the prisons actually are, and whether Kelso’s proposed reforms are the right way to address them.