California Could Be In Big Trouble For The Way It Treats Crazy Inmates

Prisoner in cage californiaREUTERS/Lucy NicholsonInmate Bobby Cortez, 29, sits in a cage at the California Institution for Men state prison in Chino, California, June 3, 2011. Cages are for prisoners waiting for medical appointments, counseling, or permanent cells.

There’s another crisis brewing in California’s insanely overcrowded prison system.

The Justice Department on Friday filed a “statement of interest” in a lawsuit that’s fighting the Golden State’s practice of keeping the mentally ill in isolation for months at a time, the Associated Press reports.

California’s use of solitary on mentally ill prisoners — a practice psychiatrists say can make people even crazier — subjects inmates to a “risk of serious harm,” the DOJ said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The DOJ’s filing is a sign it may intervene in the lawsuit. The filing points out that federal investigators have already found use of solitary on mentally ill prisoners in Pennsylvania to be illegal.

Like the California inmates, the mentally ill prisoners in Pennsylvania were locked up alone for 23 hours a day, the LA Times reported. Federal investigators found they were subjected to severe punishment from guards and denied vital mental health care.

The ACLU has condemned the use of solitary on the mentally ill because of the irreversible harm it can do. Mentally ill prisoners in solitary have been known to get psychotic, try to kill themselves, and “bang their heads against a wall in an effort to draw out the voices in their heads,” according to an ACLU report.

In California, inmates have gone on hunger strikes to protest the state’s “administrative segregation unit” (the polite word for solitary). The LA Times previously reported that one of the prisoners’ major grievances is that “seg units” have been used as “overflow” for housing mentally ill waiting for placement in other facilities.

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