The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has been ordered to curtail its usage of pepper spray and isolation when dealing with the 33,000 mentally ill prisoners in the California prison system.
The ruling found such tactics qualified as “cruel and unusual” punishment.
Video evidence shows guards “throwing chemical grenades and pumping large amounts of pepper spray into the cells of mentally ill inmates, some of whom are heard screaming,” the Associated Press reported.
The order was issued Thursday by U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton, who called the videos “horrific.”
The recordings were “created by guards abiding by a state policy to record all cell extractions,” the Los Angeles Times explained.
In addition to prohibiting the excessive usage of pepper spray, the judge said that corrections officials must stop housing mentally ill inmates in isolated security units simply because other prison housing is too full.
The judge agreed with inmates’ attorneys, who argued that isolating mentally ill prisoners when they haven’t broken prison rules causes serious psychological harm, worsens mental issues, and increases the risk of suicide.
State corrections officials will not be required to completely eliminate usage of pepper spray and isolation, but they have 60 days to revise their policies on use of force, segregating prisoners, and strip-searching inmates as they enter and leave prison housing. They had already agreed to make some changes, but the inmates’ attorneys said these changes were insufficient.
Mentally ill prisoners make up 28 per cent of California’s 120,000 inmates.
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