Could California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger be jailed because prison inmates in the Golden State aren’t getting the best health care money can buy? That could happen next month when federal receiver Clark Kelso asks U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson to hold the governor in contempt for failing to turn over $8 billion that Henderson ordered spent to upgrade prison health care.

The Los Angeles Times reports Kelso wants this big stash of taxpayer cash to renovate prison clinics and build seven health care facilities for 10,000 inmates – even a dental facility to make sure inmates’ teeth are in top form. In a perversion of federalism, Kelso is also demanding a $2 million fine against the state for every day the billions aren’t released.

Texas isn’t immune, as the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s 2010-11 budget request seeks an extra $181 million to fund inmate health care. Nonetheless, the state’s current medical cost per inmate is half of California’s, even before Judge Henderson’s order.

Perhaps Dallas County has the right idea. It is considering charging misdemeanants in jail $25 per day for room and board, though it forecasts many won’t be able to pay. Prison inmates are even more likely to be broke, indicating the need to expand private sector inmate work programs to defray incarceration costs.

Another solution – don’t imprison as many nonviolent elderly offenders for long periods. TDCJ’s annual report released last week noted that one of the oldest offenders released was James Terry Bray of Midland, who served five years for drug possession and is now a free man at the age of 87. How much taxpayer health care did he consume, and was he really a danger to the public in his mid-80s?

– Marc Levin