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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Judge finds treatment of California’s mentally ill inmates ‘horrific’

Modesto BeeFollowing weeks of graphic court testimony and chilling videos of inmates writhing in pain as they were blasted with pepper spray, a federal judge has found that the use of force against mentally ill inmates in California prisons is unconstitutionally harsh.

Citing the “horrific” videos he viewed during hearings last fall and a wealth of other evidence, U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton on Thursday ordered state officials to continue revising the use-of-force procedures deployed against the state’s 33,000 mentally ill prisoners and to limit the use of solitary confinement as a means of disciplining such inmates.

The 74-page order cites the “overall significant progress” that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has made in modifying its use-of-force policies, especially new limits on how and when pepper spray can be used against mentally ill inmates.

But, with such inmates constituting more than 28 percent of the roughly 120,000 prisoners in state facilities, Karlton said further improvement is needed. The judge said he found unacceptable the treatment reflected in six videos played in open court of inmates screaming in agony as guards pepper-sprayed them for infractions such as refusing to come out of their cells.

“Most of the videos were horrific,” wrote Karlton, who was visibly anguished as he watched them from the bench during court hearings last fall. continue reading...

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