Judge Denies Bid To End Federal Oversight of Prison Health Care
On Friday, a federal judge rejected Gov. Jerry Brown's (D) request to end federal oversight of California's prison health care system, the Los Angeles Times reports (St. John, Los Angeles Times, 4/5).
In 2006, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson ruled that federal oversight of the state's prison health care system was neededÂ after determining that an average of one inmate per week died as a result of medical malpractice or neglect.
In January, Brown's administration filed a request for a federal court to allow the state to regain oversight of the prison health care system.
The request stated that California has reduced its inmate population and improved prison medical and mental health care.
However, a report issued in January by Special Master Matthew Lopes said Brown's request to end federal oversight of the state prison system was premature (California Healthline, 4/3).
Lopes cited several reasons for the need for continued federal oversight, including that:
- At least 32 inmates committed suicide in 2012;
- Prisons had various lapses in care; and
- Patients with mental illnesses sometimes were put in isolation units for long periods rather than given treatment (California Healthline, 3/27).
Details of Ruling
In a 68-page decision, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton said that "ongoing constitutional violations remain" in California's prison health care system, including the state's failure to act on suicide-prevention methods recommended by the court's special master and a state expert.
Karlton cited several examples of the state's "deliberate indifference" to ongoing mental health issues in prisons, such as:
- Increasing inmate suicide rates;
- Shortages of mental health workers; and
- Inadequate treatment facilities (Los Angeles Times, 4/5).
The judge also criticized a series of prison tours and interviews organized by the state. He said that state lawyers "violated their professional duty" by allowing experts to interview inmates with mental illnesses without the prisoners' attorneys present (Walsh, Sacramento Bee, 4/6).
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said that it will appeal Karlton's decision.
Deborah Hoffman -- a spokesperson for the department -- said, "It's unfortunate the judge didn't give the appropriate weight to reports by national experts who found that CDCR is providing constitutional mental health care to inmates, and in fact, is a model for the nation."
She said that it is time for "costly and intrusive" federal oversight to end (Thompson, "KPCC News," KPCC, 4/5).
Broadcast CoverageOn Friday, Capital Public Radio's "KXJZ News" reported on Karlton's ruling (Adler, "KXJZ News," Capital Public Radio, 4/5). 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.