California will potentially face tens of thousands of dollars in fines daily after a federal judge ruled that the state failed to complete court-ordered suicide prevention measures in its prisons, resulting in over 200 inmate suicides in eight years.
Chief US District Judge Kimberly Mueller announced that fines of $1,000 a day for each of the 15 unmet safeguards will start on April 1st and continue until all 34 adult prisons comply. The judge also said she would impose fines for the state’s failure to hire enough mental health professionals. In addition, she scheduled a hearing for August to collect over $1.7 million in fines accumulated since 2017 due to delays in transferring inmates to state mental hospitals. This is not the first time California has been punished for prison mental health issues.
The state has struggled with inmate suicides and inadequate mental health care for decades. Last year, the state agreed to pay $2.2 billion over two years to improve inmate healthcare, mental health care, and disability accommodations after a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of inmates. The lawsuit claimed that California’s prison healthcare system was so inadequate that it violated the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
The judge’s recent decision could have a significant impact on the state, as suicide prevention measures are often inadequate in California prisons. In Los Angeles County jails, for example, inmates with serious mental illnesses were held in “outright squalor,” according to a report from The Appeal. Some prisoners were placed in “safety cells” without toilets or running water, where they were forced to defecate in plastic bags. The report also found that many inmates were left untreated, causing their mental health to deteriorate rapidly.
In light of this, California’s prison suicide prevention measures are critical, and the judge’s decision could help improve the conditions for vulnerable inmates. The ruling also highlights the ongoing national issue of inadequate mental health care in prisons, which is further exacerbated by laws preventing psychologists from prescribing medication to inmates. Colorado recently changed its laws to allow some psychologists to prescribe medication, which could set a precedent for other states to follow. However, for now, many mentally ill inmates across the country continue to suffer without proper care.
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