On Wednesday, a federal judge threatened to fine California $1000 a day if the state does not step up its care for mentally ill inmates who face a serious waitlist for beds at mental hospitals. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the Department of State Hospitals would be forced to pay $1000 per day, per waitlisted inmate, the Associated Press’ Don Thompson reports. US District Judge Kimberly Mueller gave CA officials until May 15 to comply with its own deadlines for transferring inmates into mental health care facilities.
According to the order, state guidelines say that patients that require an intermediate level of care must be transferred within 30 days. Inmates requiring an acute level of care must be transferred within 10 days. These deadlines are not being met for the state’s mentally ill prisoners.
The battle between California and inmates’ advocates has been ongoing. In 2015, Judge Mueller ordered the state to explain why there was a waitlist for mental health beds when there were hundreds of empty psychiatric beds at Atascadero State Hospital.
Michael Bien, an attorney representing tens of thousands of the state’s mentally ill inmates, told the Sacramento Bee’s Sam Stanton that the state has made some progress toward improving care for mentally ill inmates. The state reportedly technically has enough beds to treat those inmates in need, but because of setbacks, including storm damage to treatment space within Salinas Valley State Prison and security problems within hospitals, inmates are still waitlisted.
The state plans to make repairs to the Salinas prison and to open a 70-bed facility within the California Medical Facility in Vacaville. (Historically, the state prison medical facilities have not always provided inmate patients with the standard of care they might receive at a hospital, however. In 2015, Michael Galliher, a 49-year-old schizophrenic man, died at the California Medical Facility, just six days after being transferred out of the Atascadero mental hospital. Galliher had served 25 years of a life with the possibility of parole sentence for second-degree murder. Galliher, who was afraid to eat in front of other people, was reportedly not properly monitored, and died of complications of starvation.)
In a 15-page order, Judge Mueller said the state’s cycle in and out of compliance with its own rules “must be broken.”
The CDCR and the Department of Hospitals will start incurring daily fines for non-compliance after May 15. If the state doesn’t fall back into line, before the deadline, fees will be collected at a November hearing on the issue.