Federal judge renews order for California prison mental health plan

Even as California makes preparations to appeal federal court rulings on the quality of care and crowding of conditions in state prisons, new orders are in the making.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton on Tuesday dusted off a pending August 2012 order for the state to produce a plan to improve the quality of inmate mental health care, and gave it a new July 1 deadline. The judge’s order notes that compliance was interrupted by the state’s bid in January to end court oversight of prison mental health care.


Lawyers for some 33,000 inmates requiring mental healthcare are meanwhile seeking new orders against the state. They filed a motion this month asking Karlton to order the Department of State Hospitals to remedy staffing shortages and other issues at Salinas Valley State Prison.

Prisoners’ attorneys say they expect to file similar motions seeking court orders dealing with other aspects of inmate care that came to light during investigation of the state’s claims.

They include the housing of mentally ill inmates in isolation cells, and the frequency that corrections officers use force, from batons to tear gas, to control mentally ill inmates.

Gov. Jerry Brown has vowed to appeal Karlton’s refusal to end court oversight of prison psychiatric programs, contending the state has made sufficient progress, and prison mental healthcare now at least meets minimum standards required under the U.S Constitution.