Probe of California’s prison-based mental health facilities ordered

Lee Romney and Paige St. John (Los Angeles Times) | July 12, 2013

SACRAMENTO — Citing evidence of doctor shortages, treatment delays and “denial of basic necessities, including clean underwear,” a federal judge on Thursday ordered an in-depth probe of conditions at prison-based mental health facilities run by the California Department of State Hospitals.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton has been overseeing mandated improvements of care for mentally ill prisoners throughout California, treatment that the courts 18 years ago deemed so substandard as to be unconstitutional.

The efforts largely have focused on state prisons. But in recent months psychiatrists and plaintiffs’ attorneys have complained of problems at the facilities at Salinas Valley and Vacaville state prisons. The facilities provide care to severely ill inmates under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Last month, Karlton heard testimony on the question of whether to impose greater scrutiny.

Those pressing for oversight by a so-called special-master argued that at Salinas Valley, patients often waited weeks before receiving treatment. One inmate committed suicide last year as he was being assessed.

Attorneys for the Department of State Hospitals argued that the move would “unnecessarily expand judicial oversight.”

In his order, Karlton wrote: “The court finds there is a significant evidentiary basis for questioning the adequacy of critical aspects of inpatient care” at the prison facilities. The judge ordered the special master to complete a report on Salinas Valley within 75 days, and to conduct probes of the Vacaville psychiatric program and a new one slated to open this month in Stockton by March 2014.

Read more at: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-prison-mental-health-20130712,0,1225683.story

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