Report faults California prison mental health care
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California is providing haphazard, inadequate psychiatric treatment to its most severely mentally ill inmates, according to a new report by a federal court official.
The report filed in federal court Friday by special master Matthew Lopes found some patients were drugged instead of counseled, returned to prison too soon and rarely received one-on-one therapy.
Overall, Lopes described a fractured, understaffed system in place at two state psychiatric hospitals and psychiatric hospitals run within four state prisons, The Los Angeles Times reports.
The result, he found, was care that was “more rote than truly responsive,” where treatment was often generic with little regard for individuals’ needs. At one prison, for instance, participation in a magazine-lending program was counted as group therapy.
“Patients also complained of having no one to talk to when they were having difficulties,” Lopes wrote. “There is a need for the development of a consistent, more therapeutically oriented and less punitively oriented system that can be applied across all six programs.”
U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ordered the special master’s report last year after he ruled that state officials were failing to provide inmate care that met levels required by the Constitution.
Deborah Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, declined to comment on the report’s general conclusions. But Hoffman highlighted the special master’s praise for one of the six programs, the California Institution for Women.
“We are encouraged by what the Special Master found at CIW, and we are committed to continuing to improve care for mentally ill inmates in our institutions,” she said in an emailed response.
The five other facilities, three of which are run on the grounds of state prisons, are jointly run by the Department of State Hospitals, Lopes said. That department’s spokesman, Ken August, said officials had received the report and were reviewing it.
While Lopes noted that all six psychiatric centers were trying to make improvements, he recommended that the state continue to monitor four of the psychiatric facilities on-site.
Atascadero State Hospital, where this week a paroled prisoner getting psychiatric treatment was accused of killing another patient, received some of Lopes’ strongest criticism.
After November 2011, when the hospital no longer was under federal oversight from 2006, access to group therapy immediately dropped, he found. Lopes also took issue with the facility’s history of discharging prisoners based on their length of stay, rather than their mental condition.
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