Videos of Mentally Ill Inmates Being Pepper-Sprayed Shown in Court
During a federal court hearing on Tuesday, attorneys for California inmates showed two videos as part of their argument for changing the treatment of prisoners with mental illnesses, the Sacramento Bee reports.
The videos showed prison guards pepper-spraying and then subduing inmates with mental illnesses (Walsh/Stanton, Sacramento Bee, 10/1).
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.
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, 9/24).
About 30% of the state's 133,000 adult inmates have a mental illness, according to the Bee.
Details of Videos
Attorneys for prisoners showed two videos during the hearing on Tuesday, including one that depicted an inmate in a mental health crisis unit being pepper sprayed after refusing to take medication.
The attorneys said they have a total of 17 videos, which were obtained from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as part of the lawsuit. They said the videos show prison guards using extreme force when inmates:
- Violate rules;
- Refuse medication;
- Act out; or
- Are involved in other incidents.
The hearing will continue on Wednesday, and inmates' attorneys said they plan to show more of the videos.
Comments From Inmates' Attorneys
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.
Jeffrey Bornstein -- an attorney representing prisoners -- said prison guards have been "punish[ing] people because of their mental illness." He said to Karlton, "Without your order, they refuse to change" tactics.
Lawyers for the state denied that there are systemic problems with prison guards' treatment of inmates with mental illnesses.
Patrick McKinney -- an attorney for the state -- said, "There is simply no pattern or practice of systemic use of force against the mentally ill by CDCR."
McKinney also said that the videos are misleading because they do not show efforts to verbally persuade inmates to comply with rules before force is used (Sacramento Bee, 10/1).
In court filings, Steve Martin -- a prison expert -- said CDCR staff used force in a "good faith effort to control, neutralize or immobilize inmates who are actively engaged in threats of harm to each other, staff or the good order of the facility" (St. John, Los Angeles Times, 10/1).
On Tuesday, KQED's "The California Report" reported on the videos ("The California Report," KQED, 10/1).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.