California prison officials opened a new medical facility in Stockton today designed to improve treatment for 1,700 of the state’s sickest inmates. The opening of the 200-acre facility will also ease crowding in prisons — something that could appease a federal court that has ordered California to reduce the inmate population to ensure they receive basic healthcare. KPCC’s Julie Small reports.
Warden Ron Rackley asked hundreds of prison officials, politicians and press at the opening ceremony to stand for the inaugural raising of the flags at the California Health Care Facility.
It was a moment of celebration for prison officials in an otherwise grim month when a succession of legal decisions didn’t go their way. Just last week a 3-judge court ordered the state to release 9,600 inmates by the end of the year—to relieve overcrowding. Those judges say that’s the only way to ensure inmates get adequate healthcare. But Secretary of Corrections Jeff Beard says California’s already providing good care and should be allowed to regain full control of the prison system.
“We believe that we’re ready to do that. We believe this facility will help us even further show that we’re ready to do that. So yeah I guess my hope would be that this maybe would be the day that maybe things start going in a more positive direction,” says Beard.
The first inmates are scheduled to arrive at the Stockton facility in late July—and not a moment too soon. On Monday, a US District Judge in San Francisco gave the state three months to transfer thousands of inmates susceptible to Valley Fever, out of two prisons where the deadly fungal infection is rife. That same day, a federal judge in Sacramento said he’d investigate understaffing of state-run psychiatric care units for prisoners.