California officials, already under judicial orders to reduce the prison population by more than 9,000 inmates, transfer 2,600 inmates in two prisons who are at risk of catching deadly Valley Fever and do something about the miserable health of the 130,000 still incarcerated now have something new on their plate.
And, of course, more than 10,000 inmates are entering Week Two of a hunger strike over prison conditions, particularly solitary confinement.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ordered an independent review last week of mental health facilities run by the Department of State Hospitals that provide services to prisons. He cited an “urgency of the issues at hand,” including doctor shortages, treatment delays, premature release of patients from inpatient care and a “denial of basic necessities, including clean underwear.”
Karlton said officials had “divorced themselves from reality” in asserting that steps taken by the state during 18 years of court supervision had fixed problems with mental health care, and gave a court-appointed special master 75 days to report back to him on conditions at the 340-bed psychiatric program at Salinas Valley State Prison. The judge also asked for probes of the psychiatric program at Vacaville State Prison and a new program being developed in Stockton to be completed by March 2014.
His ruling focused on prison-based programs currently housing 761 mentally ill patients, but conditions at Atascadero, Coalinga and Patton state hospitals, with another 228 patients, will also be scrutinized.