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Calif. Under Pressure to Provide Mental Health Care to Inmates

— The pressure is on California's Department of Corrections to make a deal to provide mental health care to inmates. A federal judge in Sacramento has ordered the state to present a final plan by tomorrow/Tuesday on how to get the job done. Julie Small reports the state has had more than a decade to comply.

Attorneys for inmates sued California in the 1990s for failing to provide adequate treatment for thousands of prisoners with mental illnesses.

The state settled the suit with an agreement to build new psychiatric care facilities and hire qualified staff.

But Michael Bien - the attorney for the inmates - says little has changed.

"What's happened is that the projects will be approved but then they'll stall," he says.

Bien says over the last decade, the Department of Corrections started and stopped dozens of plans to build more beds for mentally ill inmates.

"They're left languishing in their cells, in administrative segregation units, in cages in the prisons and various overcrowded units where the dedicated clinicians can simply not provide the appropriate care," says Bien.

Attorney Michael Bien wants U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton -- who oversees the settlement -- to force the state to come up with a solution, fund it and make it happen.

But the Department of Corrections hopes to fold improvements to mental health care in to a larger plan to improve prison medical care. That plan is still in the works, too - and has been for years.

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