Federal Oversight of California Prison Health Care Continues

Photo credit: Michael Coghlan via Flickr

Photo credit: Michael Coghlan via Flickr

Since 2006, the federal courts have had a formal oversight role with California’s prison health care system – a result of a long history of poor care provided to inmates. A new scandal makes it seem highly unlikely that the state will regain full control of its prisons any time soon.

Sacramento-based U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller – who is the present overseer of the system – has ordered an independent investigation into allegations that the state systematically lied about the care being provided to the 30,000-plus inmates with significant mental health issues.

The allegations were detailed in a 161-page report by Dr. Michael Golding, chief psychiatrist for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. While officials claim that mental health treatment in state prisons is much better than it used to be, Golding wrote in a 161-page whistle-blower report that fewer than half of inmates were seen within the strict time limits set after past lawsuits, and that some inmates didn’t receive treatment for months.

Golding wrote that one female inmate who wasn’t provided needed medication yanked out one of her eyeballs and then ate it.

State denies lying about mental health treatments

The state has vigorously challenged Golding’s claims since he leaked his report in October. In court filings, lawyers for the state say he often jumped to conclusions based on vague evidence. “Dr. Golding’s implication that patients languish for many months without a psychiatric contact is inaccurate,” said one document.

State lawyers also strongly opposed Mueller’s decision to name former U.S. Attorney Charles Stevens to investigate the allegations, saying it overstepped her authority and that existing prison monitors could handle a probe. They also blasted the judge’s requirement that the state pay for the investigation.

But Mueller said in appointing Stevens, she was fulfilling her responsibility in her oversight role. “The court has not merely the authority, but also the duty, to protect the integrity of the judicial process,” Mueller wrote.

She also ordered prison officials not to retaliate against Golding and other prison staffers who helped him gather information for his report.

Mueller directed Stevens to report back to her by mid-April on his findings. While a U.S. attorney in the Clinton administration, Mueller won a reputation as a hard-charging prosecutor for his role in convicting the Unabomber, Theodore John Kaczynski, and in several political corruption cases.

This isn’t the first time that the Brown administration has accused Mueller of going beyond what is allowed in her prison oversight role. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in November rejected the state’s argument that she didn’t have the authority to fine the state $1,000 a day if mentally ill inmates didn’t get timely treatment.

Mueller may hold off imposing such fines until Stevens delivers his report on the new allegations.

Three prison psychiatrists have alleged wrongdoing

Two other Corrections Department psychiatrists have made allegations about poor mental health care that were similar to Golding’s, according to a Sacramento Bee report last month. Dr. Melanie Gonzalez still works for the department and also received a protection order on her behalf from Mueller. Dr. Karuna Anand says she was fired by the agency last year after complaining about how bad conditions were at the state prison in Stockton. She is pursuing a civil lawsuit against the state.

The federal oversight of state prisons was ordered in 2006 by U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson. The ruling resulted from a class-action lawsuit filed in 2001 against the state over health care in California prisons.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Comments

  1. Shouldn’t the “oversee-er” have some responsibility for the level of care being issued under his/her watch?

  2. I hope that the truth uncovered. Ric Lipon

  3. Why isn’t JACHO (Joint Accreditation Commission for Health Care Organizations) providing oversight of prison health care organizations?!
    When JACHO evaluates a hospital or clinic, the hospital or clinic complies, JACHO has quality standards, JACHO can also shut down a hospital or clinic health if they are seriously screwing up. If JACHO tells a hospital to jump, the hospital says “How High?” It is an established reliable agency developed by the real health care system, that has the capacity to oversee the entire american health care system.
    If all prison health clinics/agencies had to be accredited by JACHO to ACCEPT a prison health care contract, and then KEEP/MAINTAIN their JACHO accreditation to CONTINUE providing prison health care (JACHO does regular evaluations of all accredited hospitals and clinics, and can be called in for any problems in the interim) then the prison health care system would be resolved. Prisons can not be monitored by a single person selected by a judge to oversee quality, the prison health care system providers are too big.One person can not know everything there is to know about improving quality care.

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