Calif. Plan To Reduce Isolation of Mentally Ill Inmates Approved
On Friday, a federal judge in California approved a plan that will ease solitary confinement restrictions for inmates with mental health issues, the Los Angeles Times reports (St. John, Los Angeles Times, 8/29).
About 30% of the state's 133,000 adult inmates have a mental illness.
California State Prison spokesperson Stephan Riley said inmates in isolation units generally spend about 90% of their time in a cell and 10% in a fenced-in yard. Inmates that are segregated in such a way still have access to psychiatric services, such as group therapy, but they remain locked in holding cells during treatment.
In August, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton gave California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials a deadline to establish a plan for preventing inmates with mental illnesses from being placed in isolation units.
The order came after Karlton in April ruled that the state corrective department's use of excessive force against prisoners with mental health issues violates the inmates' constitutional rights (California Healthline, 8/21).
Details of Plan
Under the new plan, prison officials will create segregation units at 16 prisons that give inmates with mental health issues:
- Access to more treatment, including weekly group therapy;
- Increased contact with clinicians; and
- More time outside of their cells, increasing to 20 hours for men and 15 hours for women from the previously allowed 10 hours per week.
However, such inmates will remain in isolation under the plan (Los Angeles Times, 8/29).
Prison officials will conduct individual reviews of all inmates in psychiatric housing units. Those who no longer pose a safety threat will be moved to less restrictive units.
Under the plan, thousands of inmates with mental health issues will be transferred to less restrictive housing units, including:
- About 740 inmates with mental illnesses; and
- More than 2,000 inmates with less serious mental illnesses (Goode, New York Times, 8/29).
Jules Lobel, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said the plan is a "step in the right direction," but it is "still solitary" (Los Angeles Times, 8/29).
Meanwhile, Michael Bien, an attorney who represents inmates, said, "This process should result in a substantial reduction in the number of prisoners who are in [isolation] units." Bien added that for some inmates "it may just result in them getting out very quickly. Or it may result in the shortening of their stays in these units" (Orr, "KXJZ News," Capital Public Radio, 8/29).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.