Romero said figures showing that 20% of prison doctors had blemished records were unacceptable.
Among the most dramatic examples is Dr. Michael Reynolds, an obstetrician who has worked at Corcoran State Prison near Fresno -- a men's institution -- since 2003.
Reynolds, a former alcoholic who once practiced in Irvine, was convicted in 1981 of possession of cocaine. He was placed on probation for three years and entered a substance abuse program, records show. Sued for malpractice at least seven times, he won one case and settled six, documents show.
In two of the cases, Reynolds left a surgical sponge in a woman's abdomen, an oversight he said might have been influenced by a hangover, according to a 2001 deposition. In a third case, he paid more than $900,000 to a woman whose baby was born brain-damaged and a quadriplegic, allegedly because he waited too long to perform a caesarian section, the deposition said.
After Reynolds lost hospital privileges because of such episodes, the state medical board launched an investigation.
In 1996, the board concluded that Reynolds had committed gross negligence in two cases and placed him on seven years' probation. The action banned him from practicing obstetrics and required him to be monitored by another physician. He also was ordered to undergo psychotherapy, drug screening and competency testing.
The state hired Reynolds in 2002, about 1 1/2 years before he completed probation. A department spokeswoman said he could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Kanan said Reynolds joined the department when its hiring process was less selective, and that he would not "rank very high on the screening process now." But she stressed that his record would not necessarily disqualify him, though it would prompt a vigorous discussion among prison physicians who evaluate applicants.
A second doctor whose past has raised red flags with legislators is Dr. Jeffrey Rohlfing, an orthopedic surgeon hired at High Desert State Prison in Susanville in mid-2003.
Rohlfing was placed on five years' probation by the board, ending in 2002, after an investigation found him guilty of impairment due to mental illness and unprofessional conduct.
In 1996, board documents show, Rohlfing began engaging in "bizarre, irrational and delusional communications" with fellow staff members at a Fresno hospital. After one confrontation, police were summoned, prompting Rohlfing to flee in his car, running a red light before he was finally apprehended at his home. Police placed him on a 72-hour psychiatric hold.
After a second incident led police to again place him in custody for 72 hours, Rohlfing was examined by a psychiatrist, who found he was a danger to himself and others and could not practice medicine safely.
In an agreement with the board, Rohlfing kept his license but was subject to numerous conditions while on probation, including drug testing, psychiatric evaluation and monitoring by another physician.
Rohlfing was on vacation Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.
The president of a union for government doctors acknowledged that some who practice in prison "are deficient and probably would not have been hired if the state had proper credentialing committees."
Dr. Robert Weinmann of the Union of American Physicians and Dentists added that a testing and retraining program was a fine idea -- for those who needed it.
"But," he said, "what they are planning to do -- sending all the doctors, hundreds of them -- for testing is incredibly wasteful, insulting and reflective of the poor management that got the department into this mess in the first place."