Richard Krupp, Ph.D.
December 9, 2010
The people of California are stuck in the middle of a circus-like battle in the US Supreme Court with the Plata and Coleman cases at the heart of the mess. It’s a battle of words and most of them are misrepresentations or half-truths. Rather than investigative reporting, the media is parroting catch phrases and invalid data without checking facts. The politicians and lawyers are trying to figure out an angle to promote various agendas and the judges have to sift through the rubble. If inmate releases are ordered due to alleged cruel and unusual punishment created by overcrowding, the people of California will be stuck with the tab in tax dollars and more importantly crime victimization.
In a November 30 Sacramento Bee (Sac Bee) article, State’s jammed prisons at issue, according to Don Spector of the Prison Law Office, “prisoners are dying unnecessarily at the alarming rate of one every eight days because they do not receive basic medical care from the state.” The next day a Supreme Court Justice was quoted as saying, “When are you going to avoid the needless deaths?”
The actual data from the Federal Receivers office report indicates that of the inmate deaths in 2009, “43 were “possibly preventable”, and 3 were “likely preventable.” The actual assessment of preventability is more art than science. This is the same report that listed 3 different numbers of inmates that died in 2009. The 46 deaths represent 0.00027% of the average daily inmate population in California prisons.
According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office roughly $2.5 billion or $16,000 per inmate was spent on medical care in fiscal year 2008-09. The US Bureau of Prisons housed about 166,000 inmates in 2007 and spent about $736 million on inmate medical care (less than $5,000 per inmate). There are differences between the two prison systems, but the medical care spending is worth noting.
The Federal Receiver’s oversight on medical spending has been problematic. For example, a contract doctor at a community hospital who had been on probation for manslaughter involving a patient was overbilling the department of corrections by 100% for more than a year. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found in an April 2010 report that the Receiver’s office wasted than $13 million due to lack of oversight and accountability in prison pharmacy operations.
Regarding inmate suicides, according to a Sac Bee article on November 30, 2010, according to the three judge panel “the California prison suicide rate, roughly 25 per 100,000 inmates is nearly twice the national average for prisons.” The following table displays the number of CDCR inmate suicides from 1999-2007, the rate per 100,000 in CDCR as well as the overall rate for all prisons and jails in the U.S. At no time from 1999- 2006 has the CDCR suicide rate been double the national average.
Year CDCR Suicides** Rate per 100,000 US State prison Rate per 100,000 Local Jail Rate per 100,000 1999 25 (29) 15.5 2000 15 (14) 9.3 47 2001 30 (30) 19.3 14 50 2002 22 (21) 13.9 14 47 2003 36 (37) 23.1 16 43 2004 26 (26) 15.9 16 42 2005 43 (37) 26.2 17 38 2006 43 (42) 25.1 17 36 2007 34 (33) 19.7
** Numbers from Federal Receiver. Numbers in () from CDCR, Data Analysis Unit
On August 18, 2009 the Sacramento CBS television news station reported that in separate incidents, “Two California inmates, both serving life sentences for notorious murders in 1970, died in their cells of apparent suicide this past week.” One of the inmates was convicted of murdering a doctor, his wife, and two children and another person while the other inmate was convicted of murdering four California Highway Patrol Officers. A total of nine lives were taken by these two murderers. How concerned should taxpayers be?
How much money do the taxpayers pay for all of the legal maneuvers involving inmate lawsuits like the ones moving us to the Supreme Court? In a November 2010 special review that the OIG conducted into the legal costs associated with 12 class action lawsuits filed against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation found that, “As of June 30, 2009, the department had spent in excess of $139 million on attorney, special master and expert fees related to 12 class action lawsuits filed on behalf of inmates or wards.” In addition, “the private law firm retained to assist the department in its defense of the Plata lawsuit billed the department at a rate up to $395 per hour.” The reported costs associated with Coleman v. Schwarzenegger were $47,118,564 and for Plata v. Schwarzenegger $15,590,342.
The OIG also pointed out that, “In several cases, the courts have directed plaintiffs' attorneys to monitor the department’s compliance with the settlement/stipulation or other court orders, and to bill the department for such monitoring costs.” The Receiver evaluates his own progress. With both situations, the self-reports/evaluations at minimum are of questionable validity and possibly more like an infomercial. The courts should re-think this flawed concept. An independent evaluation of both the court cases and the Receivers operation should be established.
To release up to 40,000 inmates due to medical “deficiencies” would be unwise. There is no valid evidence that inmates in California prisons are dying due to medical care deficiencies or suicide at a rate higher than in the national prison rates or in the community at large. In fact there is legitimate evidence that criminals are safer in prison that in the community. The mortality rates triples after they are released from prison according the New England Journal of Medicine. There is no valid evidence that “overcrowding” has any significant negative impact on inmate health. The criminals sentenced to prison typically have lengthy histories involving the use illicit drugs, excessive drinking, and violent/predatory behavior and a lifestyle detrimental to good health. Inmates are typically in better health upon release from prison than when entering prison.
On the other hand, there is evidence that inmates released early commit crimes. For example, Mydesert.com reported on November 30, 2010 that a Riverside police officer was killed by a parolee released early. It would seem wise and appropriate for the Supreme Court to leave issue of the number of inmates that can be housed in state prisons to the states. The new administration in California would be wise to keep the safety of the public the top priority and reduce the money taxpayers are paying for inmate medical care a related legal costs.