Days before a critical hearing on federal oversight of California prisons, Judge Lawrence Karlton wants to know why the state’s expert witnesses were given a “secret” tour of facilities in apparent contravention of his previous order not to do that.
Karlton will be hearing arguments March 27 from the state on its bid to end federal control of state prisons. The federal government has been in charge of California prison healthcare since 2005 and overcrowding since 2009. Karlton is focusing on prisoner mental health care and the high rate of suicide in California penal institutions.
Testimony from four state mental health experts about prison conditions was given after they visited facilities where they spoke to inmates in 2011, all without the knowledge of the plaintiffs bringing suit to compel better inmate care. Technically, the inmates are their clients.
In the past, the judge had ordered that both parties be present on any prison tours and, according to the Los Angeles Times, expressed surprise that “common sense” wouldn’t have dictated that the policy continue. Karlton ordered the state to tell him why he shouldn’t toss out the experts’ testimony.
Karlton and the state have been at loggerheads recently over remarks by state lawyers attacking the veracity of the court-appointed special master looking into prison psychiatric care.
The Times also reported earlier in the month that the administration suppressed a report by national suicide prevention expert Lindsay Hayes in 2011 that the system for holding suicidal patients in tiny, filthy, airless holding cells contributed to them committing suicide.
Last week, court-appoint mental health expert Dr. Raymond Patterson filed a scathing report on the state’s miserably overcrowded prisons and said it would be his last because “further recommendations are futile.”
Governor Jerry Brown declared the “prison crisis” over in January and said the state was done pouring money down “a rathole of incarceration.”
His declaration will not be the last word on the matter.