Judge Orders Improved Mental Health for Death Row Inmates
On Tuesday, a federal judge ordered California officials to provide more intensive psychiatric care to prisoners with mental illnesses who are on death row, AP/U-T San Diego reports (Thompson, AP/U-T San Diego, 12/10).
In June, lawyers representing California state inmates asked U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton to expand oversight of the state's prison mental health care system to include the California Department of State Hospitals. Karlton ordered an investigation of prison-based mental health care facilities managed by DSH.
Inmates' attorneys requested that Karlton order:
- The opening of a psychiatric treatment center in Vacaville to serve inmates on death row;
- A review of death row inmates' mental health needs; and
- Revisions to state policies on the use of batons, pepper spray and other weapons on prisoners with mental illnesses (California Healthline, 10/17).
Details of the Ruling
In a 28-page ruling, Karlton called current efforts to provide mental health care to inmates on death row "inadequate." He said current treatment falls short on:
- The level of care provided; and
- Capacity for treating prisoners.
Karlton ordered state officials to:
- Work with a court-appointed special master to determine how to best provide mental health services to inmates on death row; and
- Immediately begin psychiatric evaluations to determine how many death row inmates would need such services.
Deborah Hoffman, a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the state will "work with the court and the special master to ensure mentally ill inmates on death row receive proper care" (St. John, "PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 12/10).
According to AP/U-T San Diego, one option for the state would be to create an inpatient psychiatric facility at San Quentin State Prison, where inmates are held on death row.
Reaction From Prisoner Advocates
Michael Bien, an attorney for inmates, called the ruling "a very significant victory" for inmates and prisoner advocates.
Bien said that the decision proves state officials are violating inmates' rights and failing to provide appropriate mental health care services.
"[T]he court acknowledged the complexity of the issue ... You can't just plug [inmates with mental illness] into the rest of the prison system," he said.
Bien added that inmates' attorneys would not object to the opening of a psychiatric unit at San Quentin (AP/U-T San Diego, 12/10).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.