Lawyers Seek To Limit Isolation Time for Inmates With Mental Illnesses
At a court hearing on Wednesday, attorneys for California prisoners argued for a limit on the amount of time inmates with mental illnesses can be held in isolation units, KPCC's "Represent!" reports (Small, "Represent!" KPCC, 7/31).
In 2006, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson ruled that federal oversight of the prison system was needed after determining that an average of one inmate per week died as a result of medical malpractice or neglect (California Healthline, 7/30).
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 (California Healthline, 7/12).
Details of Isolation Units
Prison officials can isolate high-risk inmates -- including prison gang leaders or accomplices -- by placing them in:
- Security Housing Units; or
- "Administrative segregation" rooms.
However, many inmates who are kept in isolation also have a mental illness, according to "Represent!"
At the hearing, Michael Bien -- an attorney for inmates -- said solitary confinement is "worse for people with mental illness" because it could exacerbate their conditions or lead to suicide.
He said inmates kept in isolation often refuse to receive treatment for mental health problems because the care is administered in full view of other prisoners. He added that inmates receive full-body searches upon entering and leaving the treatment area.
"[F]or all of these reasons, when mentally ill people are in these units, they get sicker," Bien said.
Karlton has scheduled a hearing for the first week of November to evaluate Bien's request.
Dana Simas of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said that only inmates with minor mental health conditions -- such as behavioral problems -- are kept in isolation.
She said prisoners in the isolation units receive 10 hours of mental health treatment and meet with a primary care provider each week.
Simas said inmates with severe mental health problems are sent to mental health crisis units or larger health care facilities operated by DSH ("Represent!" KPCC, 7/31).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.