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Federal Judge To Decide Treatment Of Mentally Ill Inmates

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A federal judge is set to decide whether the heavy use of pepper spray by state prison guards against mentally ill inmates violates prisoners' civil rights, with closing arguments in the case beginning Thursday.

The trial in federal court in Sacramento featured the airing of a half-dozen videos -- since made public -- that showed pepper spray used multiple times on screaming inmates who refused to leave their cells. Officials said last month that they will change their rules to limit how much pepper spray can be used.

The state's own expert witness testified that guards use pepper spray far too often and much too heavily, and that his previous recommendations for changes were rejected or ignored.

"What these videos have demonstrated is an institutionally sanctioned way of torturing mentally ill inmates," Jeffrey L. Bornstein, an attorney representing inmates, said in an interview outside the Sacramento courtroom. "And while they're not doing it necessarily for the purpose of deliberately causing harm, it shows that they are consciously indifferent to the pain and suffering that they are causing."

Patrick McKinney, a supervising deputy attorney general who represents the state in the case, referred a request for comment to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

"Use of force is always a last resort for our staff, and cell extractions are typically done to keep inmates from harming themselves or others and to ensure that they are placed in a more appropriate mental health setting," department spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said in an emailed statement. "What you don't see on these videos is the hours of discussions that take place between the inmate and clinical staff before a cell extraction is ordered and the video camera starts rolling."

The dispute is the latest chapter in a 23-year-old lawsuit that has helped prompt sweeping changes in the state's prison system, including a sharp reduction in inmate overcrowding. Federal judges, backed by the U.S. Supreme Court, have ruled that reducing the prison population is necessary to improve care for sick and mentally ill inmates.

Yet one witness for inmates, Dr. Edward Kaufman, testified that little has changed in the 20 years since U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton first ruled that guards were using excessive force against mentally ill prisoners who refused to comply with their orders.

Kaufman first toured California prisons in 1992 and 1993 as an expert witness in the same lawsuit. Then, guards used Tasers and launchers that fired wooden or rubber blocks. Now they have substituted batons and pepper spray.

The excessive force complaint resurfaced after Karlton rejected Gov. Jerry Brown's attempt to end court oversight of inmate mental health programs in April.

Separately, the judge also is considering whether mentally ill inmates on death row are given proper treatment.

The hearing over excessive force centered on the videos, which were recorded by correctional officers as part of their official duties. The death row debate was punctuated by the story of a condemned inmate who punched out his own eyes with a pair of ball point pens. The psychotic inmate tried to kill himself three times at San Quentin State Prison but was never hospitalized. He finally hanged himself in April.

The judge and lawyers representing inmates and the state agreed that there have been significant improvements in caring for condemned inmates in recent years. The question is whether they have gone far enough or whether a licensed psychiatric hospital unit is needed at San Quentin.

Karlton's written rulings on both the alleged excessive use of force and the treatment of condemned inmates are expected in coming weeks.

In July, Karlton ruled that the California Department of State Hospitals shares the blame with corrections officials for providing poor care to mentally ill inmates. He said substandard care contributed to the deaths of two inmates at Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad in recent months.

He is scheduled to begin another hearing later this month to determine whether mentally ill inmates are improperly placed into segregation units where they lack for proper care.

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Avatar for user 'muckapoo1'

muckapoo1 | November 7, 2013 at 1:46 p.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

Here's an idea. Give these losers a chance to conform to the prison rules. The first time they act out of control, pepper spray them. From that time on, put them in a cell without access to the general areas. Quit coddling these clowns. If they need exercise, show them how to do push-ups. They are in there for a reason. Why give them a second chance for anything. Make me the warden. There will be fewer problems.

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Avatar for user 'rightor1'

rightor1 | November 8, 2013 at 12:51 p.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

The mentally ill cannot follow "the rules" of society nor the harsh, unbending routines of prison. This is why they're classified as being "mentally ill." No matter how hard anyone tries, a sick person cannot be punished into being well. Any prison guard or administrator who thinks that they can needs to be fired immediately.

We as citizens have the power to change sentencing laws and to stop politicians from Jerry Brown, who took $2.2 million and more from the CCPOA. The man at the top is responsible. Additionally, the media has been banned since 1996 except in very controlled circumstances in order to keep this routine torture out of the news. Media access needs to be restored right now. The criminals are wearing badges and sitting in elected office when they condone this treatment of any human being.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | November 8, 2013 at 1:11 p.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

Rightor1, well written, I agree 100%

By the way, working with a marginalized, vulnerable population such as those confined to prison should be done by staff who themselves are stable.

Prison workers should be required to undergo mental evaluations.

I wonder how many have anger-management and rage issues as well as other conditions that have drawn them to this type of position.

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Avatar for user 'muckapoo1'

muckapoo1 | November 8, 2013 at 4:55 p.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

WAH WAH WAH. I raped, I stole, I murdered, I scammed, I embezzled and I demand respect. Then we attach a lamo medical term such as mentally ill to these maggots. They are just lazy jerks looking for a quick buck. Lock them up and forget them. They cannot be cured. I suggest electric bleachers. I will be happy to pull the switch.
Once again, the left questions the stability of the responsible. Asking that they undergo evaluations. Ridiculous.

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Avatar for user 'BettyG123'

BettyG123 | November 8, 2013 at 5:24 p.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

You don't have to be related to a prisoner to be outraged by lawlessness in prisons or the violation of the Constitution, which sets limits on the power of government. The deprivation of liberty is a punishment authorized by law. The denial of life-sustaining treatment violates the law. The needless infliction of pain by agents of the government violates the law. It's past time that correctional authorities ferret out those in their ranks that bring their profession into disrepute and cost taxpayers 10's of millions in settlements and verdicts. And for people who don't think prison is punitive enough, it's long past time to get a clue. Abuse and torture is not in the job description for being a guard/correctional officer as some prefer to be called. Its against our constitution and everything America stands for.

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Avatar for user 'muckapoo1'

muckapoo1 | November 8, 2013 at 6:21 p.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

Betty, Betty. Folks in prison have it too good. They harm regular citizens and then want to be treated humanly. What a joke. To hades with them. They should have no rights. They are maggots on the hind end of humanity. They made their choice knowing that there would be consequences. Deal with it. No sympathy from me. Do the crime, do the harsh time. Bread and water with nothing extra is what they deserve.

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Avatar for user 'rightor1'

rightor1 | November 8, 2013 at 9:43 p.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

Muckapoo, you're psychologically all mucked up. See a doctor and stop breaking state and federal laws by abusing inmates. You're sicker than the people whom you think it is your job to "punish." You're supposed to protect the mentally ill.

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Avatar for user 'muckapoo1'

muckapoo1 | November 9, 2013 at 9:05 a.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

I imagine there is some whacko doctor that would say everyone has some sort of mental illness. Some chose to live by the rules, some chose to take from others. I have broken no laws. But those who have should be punished harshly. We coddle these punks and they get out to do it again. Its no wonder we have a high return rate. Three meals, exercise areas, libraries, visitation. Sounds like real torture to me. Rightor, take your sob story elsewhere. Just because you probably have one of these losers in your family is your problem. Perhaps you should have given them more help yourself. Why does this fall on the rest of civilized society? Not one person in my family or extended family has been to jail. Clean up your own mess, then come preach to us.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | November 9, 2013 at 9:13 a.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

"But those who have should be punished harshly"


Define harshly.

Physical punishment from guards (hitting, punching, spitting)?

Withholding of healthcare to inmates?

Withholding of food from inmates (in your comment, you seem to have a problem with three meals a day"

If I were locked up I'm pretty sure that even with TV and 3 meals a day it would still feel like punishment.

And you complain about repeat offenders - that's because our prison system has very little focus on rehabilitation.

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Avatar for user 'muckapoo1'

muckapoo1 | November 9, 2013 at 11:11 a.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

Duck, just tired of people placing their quilt on others. Where were these do-gooders when their family members were on the road to becoming a criminal? Did they pay to have them cured or put back on the right road. NO !!!!! Now we are supposed to deal nicely with the trash the leave on our doorsteps. If family helped their own, we would need a lot less prisons.

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Avatar for user 'rightor1'

rightor1 | November 9, 2013 at 11:50 a.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

Muck, no excuses. Punishing the mentally ill is not your job. Get help before you act out and end up in prison yourself. Study the Norway Prison Bastoy where they have the lowest recidivism rates in the world.

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Avatar for user 'muckapoo1'

muckapoo1 | November 9, 2013 at 2:48 p.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

I need no help. It is the libturd weenies of the world who need help. Get a job.

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