SACRAMENTO, Calif. — State corrections officials on Friday agreed to shift mentally ill inmates into separate specialized housing that will offer them more treatment instead of placing them in the same isolation units as other inmates, a decision that marks a major shift in how the system deals with such prisoners.
The agreement filed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento comes after a federal judge ruled in April that California’s treatment of mentally ill inmates violates constitutional safeguards against cruel and unusual punishment.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton acted after the release of videos made by correctional officers that showed guards pumping large amounts of pepper spray into the cells of mentally ill inmates, some screaming and delirious.
Under the agreement, the state will create separate short- and long-term housing units for about 2,500 mentally ill inmates who prison officials say must be kept in solitary confinement for disciplinary reasons. The agreement calls for them to get more treatment and more time out of their prison cells.
“These new policies emphasize treatment while in segregation, increased focus on the lengths of stay in segregation, and a thorough review of an inmate’s risk of decompensation from being housed in segregation upon release from inpatient care,” the department said in its filing.