California Prison Officials Examine Treatment Options for Inmates With Mental Illnesses
About 20% of California's 160,000 prison inmates and about 22% of its 4,500 wards have mental illnesses, according to state officials, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reports. In response, state officials have begun to reevaluate the quality of care for inmates with mental illnesses, according to Margot Bach, spokesperson for the Department of Corrections. In addition, several recent lawsuits have resulted in the addition of mental health facilities and "relax[ed] regulations" on the isolation of prisoners with mental illnesses, the Press-Enterprise reports. For example, the Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility in Chino in February will open an 11-bed facility to treat wards who are severely depressed, developmentally disabled, heavily medicated or on suicide watch. Keith Wattley, a staff attorney for advocacy group Prison Law Office, said that the state has "made dramatic improvements" in the quality of treatment for mental illness in correctional facilities, according to the Press-Enterprise. However, Dr. H. Richard Lamb, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Southern California, said that the state should stop the closure of mental health institutions, as nonviolent offenders with mental illnesses could receive treatment there instead of in prison (Frith, Riverside Press-Enterprise, 10/27). Human Rights Watch last week issued a report stating that nationwide, lack of access to mental health services, the closing of mental health institutions, limited funding and disorganization within prison systems have led to a high rate of people with mental illnesses in prison (California Healthline, 10/22).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.