A federal appeals court in San Francisco today upheld a court-supervised receivership of the health care system in California’s prisons.

U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson imposed the receivership in 2005 after concluding that medical care in the state’s overcrowded prisons was so poor it violated minimum constitutional standards, with one inmate dying unnecessarily each week.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected claims by the administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that the receivership was not authorized by federal law, or, alternatively, was no longer needed.

Circuit Judge William Canby wrote, “The state to this day has not pointed to any evidence that it could remedy its constitutional violations in the absence of the receivership.”

Canby and two other judges unanimously ruled that the receivership did not contravene a federal law that restricts prison lawsuits and that there was “ample evidence” that it was needed.

Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Rachel Arrezola said, “We disagree with the ruling,” and said the administration will appeal to an expanded 11-judge panel of the appeals court.

Receiver Clark Kelso said the decision “reaffirms the legal basis and factual need for the receivership over California’s prison medical care system.”

The ruling stemmed from a civil rights lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco in 2001 by inmates who claimed substandard medical care violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The state previously agreed to a settlement of the case in 2002, and then, when it failed to meet the terms of the agreement, did not oppose the creation of the receivership in 2005 and Henderson’s appointment of a receiver in 2006.

The Schwarzenegger administration began its challenge to the receivership in 2009.

The appeals panel said the state was in “a poor position” to object to the receivership since the measure was imposed “only after the state admitted its inability to comply with consent orders intended to remedy the constitutional violations in its prisons.”

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