Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Judge ends lawsuit over Calif. inmate dental care - Sacramento Bee

A federal judge has ended a lawsuit over poor dental care in California prisons, saying that conditions have improved in the seven years since the suit was filed.

Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate praised the decision Wednesday as another sign of progress in the troubled prison system.

U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White of San Francisco dismissed the case on Monday at the request of attorneys representing the state and inmates.

"A comprehensive system is now in place to ensure that inmate-patients receive constitutionally adequate dental care," the order says.

Some remaining renovation work should be done by May 2014, according to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Inspections of dental programs at all 33 adult prisons were completed in June. The department said the programs passed with an average grade of more than 98 percent.

Cate said conditions are improving in what once was the nation's largest state prison system in part because thousands of lower level criminals have been shifted to counties' jurisdiction under a law that took effect in October.

Early last year, another judge dismissed a long-running class action lawsuit involving allegations of guard brutality. The state is now seeking to regain control of prison medical and mental health programs, over the objections of attorneys representing inmates' welfare.

"These lawsuits are expensive and burdensome, and our progress is good news for the prison system and the taxpayers of California," Cate said in a statement.

Though the prison population has been reduced by about 24,000 inmates, the department acknowledges it will not meet a judicial deadline to remove about 9,000 more inmates before June 2013.

Inmates' attorneys on Wednesday asked federal judges to order the department to take immediate steps to meet the deadline or risk being found in contempt of court.

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