Prison hospital receives no local support

Camarillo residents, officials argue that proposed location will be a drain on resources

By David Courtland 07/03/2008

Camarillo residents have launched a strong grass-roots opposition to plans for a prison hospital on Wright Road, where a youth correctional facility for girls is now.

Opponents say the proposed 1,500-bed, maximum-security prison hospital for criminally insane inmates would not only have a harmful effect on the local economy, but would be near residential neighborhoods.

“What we are saying is, put it where the impact to the community is minimized,” explained Kathi Miller, one of the homeowners coordinating the effort. “This facility they’re talking about is right next to a couple of schools.”

Miller, who says hundreds of Camarillo residents have organized into committees to make their case to elected officials, emphasizes they are not strictly opposed to having the medical facility in Camarillo at all.

“We don’t want it on this particular piece of land, there are more suitable locations in Camarillo,” said Miller, adding that alternative sites for the facility are among the things the committees are researching.

Among concerns raised by Miller and others are the prison’s impact on traffic, the aging sewer system it would be hooked into and the region’s own public healthcare system, which critics say would be drained of medical professionals rushing to work at the prison for higher pay and better benefits than available in the private sector.

Miller said a retired doctor who has been speaking to his local medical contacts has told her they all agree the prison’s effect on county’s healthcare industry would be “overwhelming and devastating.”

Camarillo City Manager Jerry Bankston, who says all five of the city’s council members are opposed to the plan, said his conversations with staff at St. John’s Hospital in Oxnard corroborate that assessment.

“All of the hospitals in the area are having a significant problem recruiting and retaining employees,” said Bankston. “If they had to compete with the prison hospital, it could clean out the medical personnel.”

Bankston said among the council’s concerns is the loss of the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility, the only one for juvenile female wards in the state, which employs 400 people.

“No other youth authority facility is equipped to that degree in faculty or programs,” said Bankston. “To tear that down and to have to duplicate it somewhere else seems rather ridiculous.”

Miller agreed, noting the California Conservation Corps currently has a construction project that would have to be torn down with the correctional facility if the prison is built there.

“There’s a lot that’s been invested in that facility,” said Miller. “They want to raze all that at taxpayer’s expense.”

Camarillo is actually one of eight possible locations being considered by Federal Receiver J. Clark Kelso, who has been given the task of making sure California complies with a federal order to improve its healthcare for prisoners.

Kelso was assigned the job by a federal judge who ruled in favor of some inmates who filed a lawsuit contending California’s prison healthcare system was so bad it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

But the goal of improving the prison healthcare system isn’t one opponents take issue with, said Miller, who blames inaction by state legislators for creating a prison healthcare crisis.

“Where were our legislators? How did they let this happen?” asked Miller. “Our elected state officials didn’t do their job. This is a situation that could have been avoided.”

Bankston said critics of the plan simply want to make sure Kelso does a thorough analysis that takes their concerns into consideration.

“We want the areas of concern to be analyzed with an open mind,” said Bankston, “and that we are able to maintain a strong communication.”

Toward that end Miller and others were on hand at Tuesday’s Ventura County Board of Supervisors meeting to tell board members other locations for the prison hospital should be considered.

Supervisor Kathy Long, who represents Camarillo, said Monday she doesn’t support the plan because she doesn’t think the prison is the best use of the property.

But Long said she won’t know what action she or the board will take until she reads the environmental impact study being done for the site. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) study isn’t expected to be ready until later this month, said Long.

“I’ll know better what steps there to take and what the issues will be,” after she reads the study, said Long, who nonetheless cited the same concerns as other critics of the plan.

“There’ll be significant traffic impacts, significant sewer impacts, I’m sure we’ll have issues,” said Long, adding she is also concerned about the risk to residents of valley fever from fungus spores kicked into the air by construction.

“We’ll be looking every way we can to tell Mr. Kelso this is not the place for the facility,” said Long.   

TIME TO TALK

In next week’s edition watch for the argument for the prison hospital including what positive affects it will have in Camarillo and Ventura County and how the Federal Receiver chose the location.

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