Federal Judge To Hear Arguments on Prison Mental Health Oversight
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton is scheduled to hear arguments on whether control of California's prison mental health care system should be returned to the state, the AP/U-T San Diego reports.
Karlton must rule on the matter by early next month (Thompson, AP/U-T San Diego, 3/27).
About six years ago, 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 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 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, 2/21).
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, 1/22).
Lawyers for the state argue that California prisons now provide a constitutional level of mental health care for prison inmates.
In a recent court filing, they wrote, "California has invested tremendous amounts of money, resources and effort to transform its prison mental health care system into one of the best in the country."
Response to State Arguments
Inmates' attorneys argue that the state has not done enough to improve prison mental health care services and that more mental health facilities must be built and staffed. They also say that state officials must do more to reduce inmate suicide rates (AP/U-T San Diego, 3/27).In addition, Raymond Patterson -- a prison mental health care expert for the court -- said that the treatment of suicidal prisoners in California facilities is routinely deficient. He said that in the case of nearly half of inmate suicides last year, prison staff did not assess the individuals for suicide risk or assessed them incorrectly (Small, "State of Health," KQED, 3/26). 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.