Defrauding the court is a serious offense, and U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller wants to find out if state officials have submitted fraudulent reports in conjunction with California prison psychiatric care.
Judge Mueller will appoint a fraud investigator to look into allegations by Dr. Michael Goldberg, the state’s chief psychiatrist for prisons, that state officials distorted data so that it would appear they were meeting court-mandated deadlines for treating mentally ill inmates, when in fact they failed to do so.
Goldberg wrote a “scathing” 161-page report in which he accused the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”) of not only providing substandard care to mentally ill inmates but giving Mueller misleading reports about the type of care such prisoners were receiving. Mueller ordered the investigation on November 13.
One-Third of California Inmates Mentally Ill
Roughly one-third of California prisoners suffer from some form of mental illness. According to Goldberg’s report, fewer than half of inmates are seen on time by psychiatrists, and when they are seen, it is often not in confidential areas.
If an inmate is transferred to a different facility, their waiting time for an appointment starts once again at their new location, and if a patient is transferred more than once, it can take a very long time before they again see a psychiatrist.
Goldberg also alleges that medical decisions made by psychiatrists are often overridden, and “appropriate consultation is not occurring.” That is not what state officials were reporting to the court. Instead, their reports claimed patients were seen on time at a 90 percent rate, but Goldberg alleged the resetting of patients’ appointments if they were transferred allowed officials to claim appointments were made within the interval mandated by the court. That maximum interval between appointments is just three months.
Goldberg describes specific incidents in his report, such as a female inmate in San Bernardino County’s California Institute for Women in Chino who screamed every 15 minutes for four hours.
Not only did staff not contact a psychiatrist about her situation, but officials did not give the woman emergency medication. The inmate eventually pulled out her eye and ate it.
Coleman vs. Brown
In 1990, a class action lawsuit known as Coleman vs. Wilson was filed. Since the defendant was the governor, it is now known as Coleman vs. Brown. The lawsuit contended that the CDCR wasn’t providing appropriate care for mentally ill inmates.
In 1995, a federal court agreed, noting that failure to provide adequate mental health care for inmates violated the Constitution’s cruel and unusual punishment clause.
Six areas were identified by the court for the CDCR to make improvements:
- Treatment programs
- Medication distribution
- Accurate and complete records
- Suicide prevention.
The Court found the CDCR was in violation of the law by not providing inmates with involuntary medication, and that the prisoner’s constitutional rights were violated by the use of administrative segregation for misconduct and the use of taser guns without regard to a prisoner’s mental health status. The CDCR provided a court-ordered mental health care plan entitled “Mental Health Services Delivery System Program Guide.
A Special Master was appointed to report on CDCR’s compliance via its guide. The case is still ongoing, but it appeared that the state was going to end its Special Master supervision this year. That’s when Goldberg gave Mueller his report, and its negative content lead the judge to unseal it and make it public on October 31.
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