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Judge Orders Probe Into California Prisons’ Mental Health Facilities


California’s prison systems have been plagued by substandard care for mentally ill inmates for years. Since 2006, the prison systems have been under federal oversight due to the inordinately large number of inmate deaths resulting from medical malpractice or neglect (CaliforniaHealthline). On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ordered an in-depth investigation into the conditions at prison-based facilities for the mentally ill run by the California Department of State Hospitals.

18 years ago, treatment for mentally ill inmates in the state of California was so bad that federal courts deemed it to be unconstitutional. At this time, an inspector reported conditions at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville to be dismal; prisoners with severe mental illnesses were in isolation in locked cells, and were often left in a segregated unit without blankets, mattresses, or clothing (Morain). In 2006, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson implemented federal oversight of the California prison systems after learning that an average of one inmate a week died from medical malpractice or neglect. Since then, it seems that conditions for mentally ill inmates have not improved significantly.

The conditions that prompted this investigation are disturbing in any context, but especially because California’s prison systems house 33,777 mentally ill inmates, and spend in excess of $400 million annually on treatment for mental health in prisons (Morain). The state-run hospitals and prison-based mental facilities showed significant evidence of failing to follow established timelines for treatment, the denial of basic necessities such as clean underwear, and a shortage of available doctors (Morain). Psychiatrists at several state mental hospitals report having caseloads of more than 40 patients; whereas the ratio that was required under federal oversight was 25:1 (Romney and John). Judge Karlton has ordered that a report on the facility in Salinas Valley be completed within 75 days, and probes into Vacaville and Stockton be completed by March 2014 (Romney and John).

California’s prison systems and their ability to treat mentally ill inmates is hindered by overcrowding. In an attempt to provide better care for the mentally ill, Governor Jerry Brown is under court order to release almost 10,000 inmates by 2014 to improve care (Thompson). Hopefully, combined efforts under federal oversight and this investigation can provide proper care to mentally ill inmates – after all, many of the state’s spending decisions resulted in these very inmates being discharged from state hospitals to the streets, without taking account of the severity of their mental illnesses (Morain).

Mentally ill inmates do not deserve lesser treatment than anyone else. Sadly, it often takes someone committing a crime before their mental health gets evaluated and treated. Yes, it costs a lot to maintain prison-based treatment at an acceptable level, but it costs even more – socially and fiscally – to deprive inmates of the care they need, turn them out to the streets, and go through the whole process again, as many of these mentally ill inmates end up in jail time and time again.

Works Cited

“Judge Orders Probe of California Prison Mental Health Programs.” 12 July 2013. CaliforniaHealthline. Web. 12 July 2013.

Morain, Dan. “Dan Morain: Mental health care issues in California prisons are rooted in the past.” 31 March 2013. The Sacramento Bee. Web. 12 July 2013.

Romney, Lee and Paige St. John. “Probe of California’s prison-based mental health facilities ordered.” 12 July 2013. Los Angeles Times. Web. 12 July 2013.

Thompson, Dan. “California prisons secretary confirmed.” n.d. The Reporter. Web. 12 July 2013.

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Written by

A native New Yorker, Bre loves the California scene and writing for Treatment4Addiction. She has been writing content for T4A for five months, and loves to learn new things, form opinions, and send them out to the world. Her interests include dance, singing, acting, talking with friends, being a daughter, and being the best big sister she can to her 16 year old brother. After attending ASU for a few months, she is interested in taking cosmetology classes and exploring her options. She looks forward to learning all she can, and doing something positive with that knowledge and experience.

Filed under: Conditions and Disorders, Mental Illness, Treatment · Tags: California's prison systems, investigation, mentally ill inmates is operated by Recovery Brands LLC, a subsidiary of American Addiction Centers, Inc.
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