Attorneys for Mentally Ill Inmates Block Department of Corrections Isolation Housing Plan
The Department of Corrections suspended plans to house mentally ill inmates in special units after attorneys for the inmates sought a court order to prevent the move, the Los Angeles Times reports. Although the department already had postponed the project to address concerns, the attorneys said the court papers were filed because the department did not make a "firm commitment" (Warren, Los Angeles Times, 10/9). Corrections officials had planned to move 52 inmates to a new "Supermax" addition at Corcoran state prison to determine if the building design "is beneficial, neutral or adverse to the mental health of (already sick) inmates" (Walsh, Sacramento Bee, 10/9). The new unit is designed so that inmates cannot see other inmates or guards from their cells, which have solid doors and only a small window to the corridor (Los Angeles Times, 10/9). Margot Bach, a department spokesperson, said the new units create "a quieter, smaller environment where [inmates] can't see and imitate other inmates who may be behaving badly."
Steve Fama, an attorney for the inmates, said the new facility would worsen inmates' illnesses because of its "endless sterility, monotony and sensory deprivation." In addition, guards could not "quickly" identify "suicidal, bizarre or predatory behavior" because there is no video monitoring of the cells, according to court documents. The documents also allege the department's plan is actually an "experiment" to determine whether inmates in the "Supermax" facility have higher rates of suicide, crisis bed admissions and changes in the level of mental health care than mentally ill inmates in traditional segregated housing (Los Angeles Times, 10/9). The court papers note that two California federal judges have ruled that housing mentally ill inmates under such conditions is "cruel and unusual punishment." In response, the department said the plan was an "evaluation project" that is needed to assess whether it creates "extreme sensory deprivation that may be detrimental to the mental health of already sick inmates" (Sacramento Bee, 10/9). Bach added, "There's no data that says this would be harmful to mentally ill inmates, and we believe it would be appropriate" (Los Angeles Times, 10/9).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.