Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Assembly Committee Critiques Receivership Spending

On today's Chron, Marisa Lagos reports some disturbing findings from the Assembly Committee on Accountability and Administrative Review. Examining expenditures made by the federal receiver appointed by the court to oversee prison health care, the committee found extravagant spending with little or no effect on quality health care.

The findings, which are expected to be announced during a hearing today, show large salaries being paid to construction consultants on an abandoned project, who then turned around and charged taxpayers for housing, meals and dry cleaning. Prison health care spending has also grown by more than 65 percent since 2006, when a three-judge panel appointed the receiver after concluding that substandard medical treatment and neglect were killing one inmate per week.

Today's public hearing will feature responses from the receivership, whose speaker explained to the Chron that --

all of the expenses paid out by the previous receiver were within federal reimbursement guidelines.

"Those contracts no longer exist, and after Clark arrived he cut back and eventually eliminated all of them," she said.

Kincaid also noted that Kelso has made great strides toward reining in expenses. The overall death rate at prison health care centers has dropped by at least 10 percent since 2006, according to a presentation Kelso is scheduled to make to the committee today.

(Kelso recently reported continued improvements in inmate health care. Others found mixed results.)

Whether the expenses are attributable to the current or the former receivership should be an easy matter to check. What is less easy is to examine the complex connection between these developments and the overcrowding problem. It seems that both sides to the debate can use this report as ammunition for their position. As some readers may recall, one of the points made by the state in the Plata/Coleman litigation was that appointing the receiver should have been enough. Those concerned about early releases might argue that, had the receivership been more prudent in setting its priorities and spending its budget, there would be no need for the Plata/Coleman panel to order the population reduction. The counterargument, made by Don Specter in the newspaper article, is that regardless of how the receivership spends its money, as long as prisons are overcrowded no construction projects or expensive consultants will be able to improve the quality of health care behind bars.

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