Is Federal Prison Oversight a Waste?


Wednesday March 20th, 2013   •   Posted by K. Lloyd Billingsley at 9:08am PST   •  

CAprison“These people are collecting their hourly rates, flying out here to do whatever it is they do, eating peanuts and watching TV on the plane. When they get here, their usual hourly rate kicks in again. These guys are just rolling.”

That may sound like a rant from some television tabloid but it’s actually California governor Jerry Brown, a former presidential candidate, charging that federal oversight of California’s prison system is wasteful. A federal court has charged that California prisons are overcrowded, and that the state is not providing inmates with a constitutional level of mental health and medical care. Brown concedes that the system was “seriously dysfunctional” in the past but claims that California has solved the problem. He cited one prison that has 32 psychologists, 10 psychiatrists and 24 psychiatric technicians for 3,600 patients. “That kind of firepower is not available to anybody who is not in prison,” he told reporters.

Those who wonder about waste and abuse in the California prison system might consider the case of Dr. Jeffrey Rohlfing a physician at High Desert State Prison in Susanville. He was hired there even though the state medical board had placed him on probation for “bizarre, irrational and delusional” behavior at a children’s hospital. “I was basically crazy,” Dr. Rohlfing told Dan Morain of the Sacramento Bee. “I’m not going to dispute that.”

After seeing Rohlfing one prisoner died and prison officials found that his care of two older inmates was “significantly substandard.” Rohlfing was fired but reinstated with more than two years of back pay, making him for one year the highest paid state employee at $777,423. The prison system kept him on the job auditing medical charts but did not allow him to treat inmates. In 2011 Dr. Rohlfing received a pay raise to $235,000 a year.

California’s civil-service rules are such that even the federal court’s appointed receiver for prison health care is unable to fire Rohlfing. So maybe Jerry Brown has a point that federal oversight is wasteful.




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