Mental Health Care in California Prisons Still in Crisis

Mon Mar 18, 2013 6:43pm EDT

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Sworn Testimony in Court Filing by Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld and Co-Counsel
Shows that Overcrowding, Dangerous and Inhumane Conditions and Severe Staffing
Shortages Persist Two Years after Supreme Court Ruling
SAN FRANCISCO,  March 18, 2013  /PRNewswire/ -- Lawyers representing prisoners
with serious mental illness in  California  state prisons filed their opposition
to the  State of California's motion to terminate  Coleman v. Brown  - the
long-running lawsuit that led to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2011 that 
California  must reduce prison overcrowding to address constitutional violations
and inhumane treatment of the mentally ill in  California's prisons. The motion
will be argued in federal court in  Sacramento  on  March 27.

The 99-page brief, which is supported by hundreds of pages of expert testimony
from some of the nation's leading experts in prison reform and mental health
care, provides overwhelming evidence that the State has failed to follow court
orders and the recommendations of its own staff and experts to address horrific
conditions and violent, inhumane treatment of the mentally ill in state prisons
- contributing to a suicide rate among prisoners that is far above the national

"The State, with Governor Brown cynically leading the charge, would like you to
believe that the prison mental health care crisis has disappeared simply because
they say it is so," said  Michael Bien  of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld, lead
attorney for the Coleman class. "Realignment and a reduction in the prison
population provided an opportunity for the state to solve the mental health
crisis - instead the administration has gone on a PR and litigation offensive,
rather than taking simple, affordable steps to change a dangerously flawed

Bien continued, "The State maximized budget savings through massive layoffs of
clinical staff, and cancellations and delays of building and upgrade projects,
forcing overworked clinicians to work double-duty to take care of seriously ill
patients in the same dangerous and inappropriate offices and treatment spaces
that the Supreme Court found to be unconstitutional less than two years ago."

"This is a life and death struggle for those with mental illness subjected to
isolation, violence, and neglect.  Everyone at the State from the governor on
down has failed to demonstrate they understand their obligations under the
Constitution," said Bien. "You only need to look at the photos that our experts
took during their inspection visits last month to know that constitutional
violations involving deliberate systemic indifference by the State in the
treatment of prisoners have not been addressed."

The plaintiffs' five experts each filed detailed testimony with the court, have
invested an extraordinary amount of time, effort and skill in investigating the
current conditions of the  California  prison system: reviewing medical and
correctional records, inspecting 11 major CDCR prisons, and reviewing numerous
CDCR and Department of State Hospitals documents.  

The experts include Dr.  Craig Haney, Dr.  Pablo Stewart, Dr.  Edward Kaufman, 
Jeanne Woodford, the former Acting Secretary of the California Department of
Corrections and Rehabilitation and Warden of  San Quentin  Prison and  Eldon
Vail, former Secretary of the  Washington State  Department of Corrections.
According to Vail in his declaration,  California's prison system "is an
aberration, a system that continues to move in exactly the opposite direction
from what is happening elsewhere in the U.S."

Dr. Haney, Professor of Psychology, Director of the Legal Studies Program and
Director of the Graduate Program in Social Psychology at the  University of
California at Santa Cruz, notes in his declaration that  California  is still
the second most overcrowded prison system in the U.S. behind only Alabama. 
Haney states, "Thus, even with the population reductions,  California  remains
an outlier. It must be noted that some individual prisons are much  more 
overcrowded than the overall system-wide figure indicates, and have scarcely
benefitted from population reductions, if at all. It is also important to
recognize that there has essentially been no reduction in the overall mentally
ill prisoner population, even as the prison system itself has become somewhat
less overcrowded."

According to plaintiffs' brief filed in U.S. Federal Court in  Sacramento  on
Friday, "The truth is that Defendants are still acting with deliberate
indifference to the staffing and resources needed to provide minimally humane
mental health care to the  Coleman  class. The effects of Defendants' systemic
deliberate indifference are visible in severely understaffed mental health
programs throughout the state where devoted and overworked clinicians struggle
to provide care in dangerous conditions and without the support they deserve.
They are visible on the faces of  Coleman  patients waiting in segregation units
and holding cells for scarce treatment beds to free up. They are visible in a
persistently high rate of suicides in  California  prison, the vast majority of
which are avoidable and foreseeable, and in the long list of persons who have
died unnecessarily in suicidal mental health crises in the year and half since
Defendants ignored and buried the common-sense suicide prevention
recommendations of their own nationally-recognized suicide prevention expert.
The facts on the ground demonstrate that life-threatening constitutional
violations are current and ongoing."

Michael Bien
Rosen  Bien Galvan  & Grunfeld LLP

SOURCE  Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld

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