Death Row Health Order

February 7, 2014

Earlier this  month, Juan Haines, our blogger in San Quentin State Prison and Managing Editor of the San Quentin News, wrote to us that the San Quentin News has been suspended for 45 days. You can read more about the details of the suspension here. The paper is expected to be reinstated in mid-February. In the intervening time, Juan continues to report for LOTL. 

Death Row Health Order

by Juan Haines

A federal court has ordered California prison officials to create or find an adequate treatment facility for Death Row inmates with mental health problems.

The case stems from a 1995 lawsuit where the court said the conditions for inmates on California’s Death Row with mental health problems violated the cruel and unusual clause of the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The court appointed a Special Master to work with prison officials to develop a plan to bring the mental health care to constitutional levels. Of the more than 700 Death Row inmates, 31 had been identified as needing such help. Another 11 were being monitored for possible inclusion.

After the Special Master filed its 25th monitoring report in January 2013, the court concluded state officials “have not historically had a viable option” for Death Row inmates with mental health issues in need of “intermediate level of hospital care.” The Special Master noted six suicides on Death Row in six years—five in the last two. According to court papers, intermediate care refers to inmates requiring “highly structured inpatient psychiatric care with 24-hour nursing supervision due to a major mental disorder, serious to major impairment of functioning in most life areas, stabilization or elimination of ritualistic or repetitive self-injurious/suicidal behavior, or stabilization of refractory psychiatric symptoms.”

The December 10, 2013 order requires state officials to continue working under the guidance of the Special Master to establish long-lasting remedies “that provide adequate access to necessary in-patient mental health care or its equivalent for seriously mentally ill inmates on California’s Death Row.”

The court further told state officials to consider “all possible remedies, including, but not limited to, creation of a hospital unit for condemned inmates only at California Medical Facility, San Quentin, Stockton or other appropriate facility.”

photo credit: TraumaAndDissociation via photopin cc