Gov. Rick Scott wisely vetoed legislation this week abolishing the state's Correctional Medical Authority. For decades, the CMA has helped the state's prison system maintain constitutionally adequate medical and mental health care. Without it, there would be no independent agency keeping an eye on prison officials who might cut corners — a situation the state has been in before, and not to good result. Scott's foresight will help prevent tragedies and lawsuits.
It is inconceivable that the Legislature voted to eliminate the CMA just as it is privatizing prisons in South Florida. After a federal lawsuit filed in the 1970s accused the state prison system of overcrowding and inadequate physical and mental health care, federal monitors were appointed to supervise the system. A federal judge relinquished that control in 1993, noting the monitoring successes and independence of the CMA.
Without CMA oversight, the federal courts may again intervene. The U.S. Supreme Court this week upheld an order requiring California to reduce its inmate population from a high of 156,000 to 110,000 in a system built for 80,000. The court found it impossible to provide adequate physical and mental health care in such overcrowding. The courts are still engaged in protecting prisoners from neglect.