Sacto 9-1-1
April 5, 2013
Judge rejects California's bid to regain control of prisons

By Sam Stanton and Denny Walsh
sstanton@sacbee.com

A federal judge today rejected Gov. Jerry Brown's bid to regain control of the state's prisons from federal oversight of inmates' mental health care, ruling that the state has not done enough to improve conditions inside the prisons.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton, in a 68-page order, found that "systemic failures persist" in anti-suicide measures and other mental health care needs.

The judge's ruling came just over a week after attorneys for the inmates and the state squared off in a contentious hearing before Karlton over whether California had done enough to improve conditions inside its prisons.

The Brown administration served notice in January that it believed it was far past time for California to regain control of the prisons from federal oversight and filed documents outlining improvements that have been made in the system since the inmate lawsuit was first filed in 1990.

But the inmates' attorneys contend the state's mental health care for inmates still is woefully inadequate and cite suicide rates among inmates as evidence of that.

They also charged that the state improperly gained access to their clients - the inmates - by having experts tour various prisons and talk to inmates about the state of their care.

The inmate attorneys classified these sessions as "secret" interviews that violate inmate rights to have their own lawyers present, something the state dismissed as absurd.

The governor already has indicated that he would pursue the matter to the nation's highest court, if necessary.

"I have no doubt that if we can get this back before the Supreme Court it will agree," Brown told The Bee last month.

The mental health case is one of two legal battles the state is waging over federal oversight. California also is seeking to get out from under a federal court decree that it reduce its inmate population to 137.5 percent of capacity by the end of the year, which would require cutting population by about 9,000 inmates to reach a total of about 110,000.

The state's prisons originally were designed to hold about 80,000 inmates, but the Brown administration contends it already has reduced the inmate population tremendously and that further cuts will endanger public safety.

A hearing on that issue, which will take place before a panel of three federal judges in San Francisco, has yet to be scheduled.

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