[Ppnews] CA suppressed consultant's report on inmate suicides - warned prison suicide-watch practices encouraged inmate deaths.
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Feb 28 15:43:43 EST 2013
California suppressed consultant's report on inmate suicides
The report warned that California's prison suicide-watch practices
encouraged inmate deaths. Gov. Brown has said the state's prison
care crisis is over.
By Paige St. John, Los Angeles Times
February 28, 2013
SACRAMENTO --- Gov. Jerry Brown
has pointed to reams of documents to make the case in court and on the
stump that California's prison crisis is over, and inmates are receiving
But there is at least one document the administration wanted to hide.
New court filings reveal that the state suppressed a report from its own
consultant warning that California's prison suicide-watch practices
encouraged inmate deaths.
Lindsay Hayes, a national expert on suicide prevention in prisons, told
corrections officials in 2011 that the state's system of holding
inmates for days in dim, dirty, airless cells with unsanitized
mattresses on the floor was compounding the risk that they would take
their own lives.
His report described in detail inmates being divested of their clothes
and possessions and robed in a "safety smock." Hayes concluded that such
conditions encouraged prisoners to declare they were no longer suicidal
just to escape the holding cells. Many of them took their own lives soon
The state asked Hayes to create a short version of his report that
omitted his damaging findings, to give to a court monitor and lawyers
for prisoners, the court documents show. Hayes complied, but when inmate
attorneys obtained a complete copy, the state asked a U.S. District
Court to order it destroyed. The judge refused.
The report says the state's handling of suicidal inmates is "seemingly
punitive" and "anti-therapeutic." Hayes noted that guards, not mental
workers, dictate many of the conditions of suicide watches, such as
whether to allow daily showers. Hayes alleged prison workers sometimes
falsified watch logs showing how frequently those inmates were checked.
Hayes found that in 25 of the cases he reviewed, seven prisoners had
killed themselves within hours or days of being released from suicide
watch. He found lapses in care --- lengthy delays in checking on the
prisoners, failure to attempt CPR --- in 68% of the cases he studied.
Hayes did give the state high marks for compiling exhaustive reports
after an inmate's death.
Contract records show that corrections officials recruited Hayes, a
former consultant for inmate plaintiffs, to begin in 2010 a three-year
project on suicide prevention, demonstrating the state's resolve to
improve inmate mental health care.
His first report was filed in August 2011. Hayes said in a deposition
that none of the follow-up reports and consultations called for in his
"When your report landed, it was not roundly applauded and in fact was
buried," Robert Canning, a prison official overseeing Hayes' work, wrote
in a June 2012 email to the consultant. There were 32 prison suicides in
California in 2012, above the national average.
Other new filings show that the staffing shortage at one prison
psychiatric hospital is so critical the psychiatric staff has declared
they have been working since Jan. 23 "under protest."
The doctors in Salinas Valley State Prison's psychiatric program, run by
the Department of State Hospitals, say they routinely juggle caseloads
of up to 60 patients a day, and in some instances have been assigned
wards containing as many as 120 patients a day.
"While not hiring psychiatrists
may help the budget, it just drives more to leave, and the conditions
just get even worse for those of us still here --- and more importantly,
for our patients," one of the psychiatrists told The Times, asking that
he not be named for fear of retribution.
The Department of State Hospitals said Wednesday that it recently hired
additional psychiatrists, with two starting work next week.
The department's acting director, Cliff Allenby, met with the prison
hospital staff Wednesday "to reassure them their concerns have been and
are being addressed," said spokesman David O'Brien. "There is currently
no anticipated staffing crisis at DSH-Salinas Valley."
Brown has been arguing in federal court that California's prison
psychiatric care no longer violates a constitutional prohibition against
cruel and unusual punishment and should be freed from oversight. In a
round of speeches in January, he cited testimony from state-paid experts
that inmates receive timely and responsive mental health care.
/paige.stjohn at latimes.com <mailto:paige.stjohn at latimes.com>/
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