Blue Ribbon Commission’s Foster Care Report…Dysfunction-Plagued $840M State Medical Prison…Judge Orders CA to Limit Pepper Spray & Isolation of Mentally Ill Prisoners…LA News Group Backs McDonnell for SheriffApril 14th, 2014 by Taylor Walker
CALIFORNIA MEDICAL PRISON STRUGGLING WITH STANDARD INMATE CARE STILL CLOSED TO NEW ADMISSIONS
In February, we linked to the LA Times reporter Paige St. John’s story about the shocking conditions inmates endured at California’s newest prison, a medical facility in Stockton. The federal receiver overseeing healthcare in California’s prisons, Clark Kelso, had halted admissions at the California Health Care Facility after an inspection team dispatched by prisoners’ lawyers found inmates in broken wheelchairs, using dirty socks to towel off, and sleeping in feces, among other horrors.
Kelso has not yet lifted the ban on new admissions, saying that the Stockton facility is still not ready.
Paige St. John takes a closer look at conditions within the $840 million medical prison and what it will take to turn things around. Here’s how it opens:
California’s $840-million medical prison — the largest in the nation — was built to provide care to more than 1,800 inmates.
When fully operational, it was supposed to help the state’s prison system emerge from a decade of federal oversight brought on by the persistent neglect and poor medical treatment of inmates.
But since opening in July, the state-of-the-art California Health Care Facility has been beset by waste, mismanagement and miscommunication between the prison and medical staffs.
Prisoner-rights lawyer Rebecca Evenson, touring the facility in January to check on compliance with disabled access laws, said she was shocked by the extent of the problems.
“This place was supposed to fix a lot of what was wrong,” she said. “But they not only were not providing care, but towels or soap or shoes.”
Reports filed by prison staff and inmate-rights lawyers described prisoners left in broken wheelchairs and lying on soiled bedsheets. At one point, administrators had to drive into town to borrow catheters from a local hospital.
Prisoner advocates in January quoted nurses who complained they could not get latex gloves that fit or adult diapers that didn’t leak. The shortages were documented in a report sent to corrections officials in Sacramento.
Even the laundry became a battleground.
Over several months, the warden ordered more than 38,000 towels and washcloths for a half-opened prison housing slightly more than 1,300 men — nearly 30 for each patient.
Even so, prisoner advocates reported, inmates were drying off with socks — or not allowed showers at all. Their towels had been thrown away.
Deborah Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, said problems are unavoidable for any new lockup, and in this case were complicated by the medical prison’s mission.
“It’s not uncommon for new facilities to have stops and starts,” Hoffman said, adding that “it is taking time to work out the bugs.”
But J. Clark Kelso, the court-appointed federal overseer for California’s prison medical system, said the facility’s woes go beyond shortages and missteps.
Speaking outside a March legislative hearing on the prison’s struggles, Kelso said a general apathy had set in with the staff.
“Because these really basic systems weren’t working, everybody kind of went into an island survival pattern,” he said. Adjusting to dysfunction, rather than fixing it, became “how we do things around here.”
The troubles at the new prison outside Stockton reflect the decade-long battle for control of California’s prisons, a system that also is the state’s largest medical care provider.
Read the rest of this complex but worthwhile story.
The above video by The Record of the California Health Care Facility’s dedication ceremony provides an interesting contrast between the prison’s design and original mission, and the current state of mismanagement and dysfunction as reported by Paige St. John.
MORE ON THE BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION’S FINAL REPORT ON THE PLIGHT OF FOSTER CARE IN LA COUNTY
On Friday, we pointed to the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection’s impending report declaring Los Angeles child welfare in a “state of emergency.” Here are a few other items we didn’t want you to miss:
LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte had this excellent story late last week about the commission’s preliminary report. (The commission will present the final report to the Board of Supervisors on April 19.) Here are some clips:
“The commission believes that there is a state of emergency that demands a fundamental transformation of the current child protection system,” it said in its final report…
According to the report:
• “The commission heard testimony that infants spend hours on the desks of social workers due to a shortage of foster homes;
• “Many children do not receive the minimally required monthly visits by caseworkers;
• “Many youth reported to the commission that they could not even reach or trust their social worker;
• “Testimony included widespread reports of rude or dismissive treatment, a feeling of re-victimization.”
“In eight months of hearing hundreds of hours of testimony, the commission never heard a single person defend the current child safety system,” it said in its report.
But a spokesman for the county Department of Children and Family Services stressed its social workers are “beyond competent.”
“We save lives every day,” Armand Montiel said in an interview, pointing out DCFS investigates reports of abuse or neglect involving about 150,000 children annually while also serving about 35,000 children who have been taken from their own homes because of abuse or neglect.
He said “very, very few” of the DCFS’s active cases end in tragedy.
Commission chairman David Sanders — who headed the DCFS before becoming an executive at a nonprofit foundation — criticized the county’s child protection system for not having an integrated approach and reacting to crises instead of preventing them.
He urged the board to issue a mandate that child safety is a top priority, and to direct its various departments — DCFS, Sheriff, Public Health, Mental Health, Health Services, Public Social Services, Housing, Probation, Office of Education and various other agencies — to strategize together and blend funding streams, overseen by a new Office of Child Protection with the authority to move resources and staff across relevant departments.
On KPCC’s Take Two, Daniel Heimpel, founder of Fostering Media Connections, also provides some insights into the report and its implications, while while taking a stand for the many DCFS employees doing “good work.” Take a listen.
Among its many recommendations, the commission calls for an independent “Office of Child Protection” to rise above the bureaucracy and coordinate resources and staff across government departments to better serve LA’s most vulnerable.
An LA Times editorial reminds us that this is not a new idea. It is one that has been revisited every year since 2010 by the Board of Supervisors. But nothing has ever come of it. According to the editorial, the Board of Supervisors, creator of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, is, itself, part of the problem.
FEDERAL JUDGE ORDERS CALIFORNIA CORRECTIONS DEPT. TO CHANGE ITS USE OF PEPPER SPRAY AND ISOLATION ON MENTALLY ILL PRISONERS
On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled that California’s use of pepper spray and solitary confinement on mentally ill inmates violates their rights against cruel and unusual punishment. Karlton gave the state 60 days to revise its policies regarding both practices. (Judge Karlton is also a member of the three-judge panel that ordered the state to reduce its prison population.)
The AP’s Don Thompson has the story. Here’s a clip:
[Judge Karlton] offered a range of options on how officials could limit the use of pepper spray and isolation units when dealing with more than 33,000 mentally ill inmates, who account for 28 percent of the 120,000 inmates in California’s major prisons.
The ruling came after the public release of videotapes made by prison guards showing them throwing chemical grenades and pumping large amounts of pepper spray into the cells of mentally ill inmates, some of whom are heard screaming.
“Most of the videos were horrific,” Karlton wrote in his 74-page order.
Corrections department spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said prison officials are reviewing the order.
Prison officials had already promised to make some changes in how much pepper spray they use and how long mentally ill inmates can be kept in isolation, but attorneys representing inmates said those changes did not go far enough.
Karlton gave the state 60 days to work with his court-appointed special master to further revise its policy for using force against mentally ill inmates.
The inmates’ attorneys and witnesses also told Karlton during recent hearings that the prolonged solitary confinement of mentally ill inmates frequently aggravates their condition, leading to a downward spiral.
Karlton agreed, ruling that placement of seriously mentally ill inmates in segregated housing causes serious psychological harm, including exacerbation of mental illness, inducement of psychosis, and increased risk of suicide.
Karlton ordered the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to develop a plan to keep mentally ill inmates out of segregation units when there is a substantial risk that it will worsen their illness or prompt suicide attempts.
He found that keeping mentally ill inmates in isolation when they have not done anything wrong violates their rights against cruel and unusual punishment. He gave the state 60 days to stop the practice of holding mentally ill inmates in the segregation units simply because there is no room for them in more appropriate housing.
LA NEWS GROUP BACKS JIM MCDONNELL FOR LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF
The Los Angeles News Group (LA Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, etc.) editorial board has officially endorsed Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell for LA County Sheriff. (It will be interesting to see what the LA Times does.) Here’s a clip:
[The] new leader must be someone with experience running a law-enforcement agency, a clear eye for problems and the credibility to fix them.
Of the seven men running, one has that combination of qualities: Jim McDonnell.
The 54-year-old McDonnell has the most glittering resume, having served as second in command to former L.A. Police Chief Bill Bratton before leaving the L.A. Police Department for his current position as Long Beach police chief.
Beyond that, McDonnell has tackled reforms before. With the LAPD, he was a major force in transforming the force in the wake of the Rampart corruption scandal. In 2011 and 2012, he served on the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence that issued a 200-page report detailing more than 60 recommendations for the Sheriff’s Department and its jail division; every other member of the commission has endorsed McDonnell for sheriff.
The five candidates who are veterans of the Sheriff’s Department hierarchy insist the next sheriff will need an insider’s knowledge to be able to quickly identify the trouble spots in the gigantic agency, which boasts 18,000 employees, including 9,000 with deputy badges. But McDonnell makes a good point in response: As an outsider, he told the editorial board, “I think I’ll come in and see things that it’ll take others longer to see.”
He’ll have to live up to that…