LA Times — When a mentally ill inmate at Corcoran state prison stripped himself naked, yelled that he was the "creator" and threatened to kill himself, guards responded by dousing him with 44 rounds of pepper spray, including four grenades of the caustic chemical.
The December 2011 incident was one of several that prompted the state's own expert to recommend major policy changes to curb excessive use of force. Now, lawyers representing about 33,000 mentally ill inmates are asking a federal judge to force the state to adopt those and other measures.
The motions come only months after Gov. Jerry Brown launched an unsuccessful bid to end court oversight of prison mental health care. A federal judge rejected Brown's request, but during the legal battle, lawyers representing inmates obtained new access to California's 33 prisons. They are now using information about conditions there to seek new orders against the state, including a limit on housing mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement.
The filings are part of a long-running, federal class-action lawsuit against California. The 23-year-old case, along with another over medical care, has led to court-ordered population caps, federal receivership, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the state, and multiple threats to hold California's governors in contempt.
California corrections officials contend that prison conditions, including the quality of mental health care, now meet constitutional standards. On Thursday, department spokesman Jeffrey Callison cited court declarations filed by the state's expert, who, Callison said, "found no excessive or unnecessary use of force." He called California's policies "among the best."
But in a deposition taken earlier this year and sealed until parts of it were filed in court Wednesday, that expert, Steve Martin, said no other state uses weapons against inmates to the extent that California does, nor routinely equips its corrections officers with large canisters of pepper spray developed by the military for crowd control. continue reading...