Lawyers argue California prison mental health care control


The judge says he's tempted to throw out the case because of what he calls "serious ethical violations." State lawyers apparently gave expert witnesses on their side secret tours of the prisons and used information from those tours to deem the mental care is now constitutional.

"They interviewed our mentally ill clients without our knowledge about the case and then they used the evidence that they gathered when we weren't present against these clients," said Don Specter of the Prison Law Office.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation denies anything was secret.

"We did let people know that these tours were occurring," said Jeff Beard, secretary of the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. "There's no intention to hide anything and in fact, if you go in to tour a prison, there's no secrets in jail."

If the case proceeds, a lot is riding. California has been mired in a long legal battle over the quality the mental healthcare of prison inmates, which their lawyers and previous rulings say doesn't meet constitutional standards.

A court had to appoint a federal receiver to improve the care.

After $1 billion spent in new facilities and increased salaries to hire qualified doctors and social workers to treat more than 32,000 mentally ill inmates, the state said enough and wants control of the prisons back.

"I think the staff is doing an excellent job dealing with the mentally ill inmates that we have," Beard said. "The care we're providing is constitutional."

Showing pictures of cages and questionable conditions, inmate attorneys say no way, that federal control must continue, especially since the suicide rate is still not acceptable to them.

"It's simply not time to end this litigation," said Michael Bien, an attorney for mentally ill inmates. "This administration has not proven they're responsible or capable of operating these prisons."

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