California prisons propose reform of use of force standards

[JURIST] The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) [official website] proposed new policies Friday for use of force against mentally ill inmates. The new regulations would require prison guards to consider the mental health status of inmates and their ability to understand commands before resorting to force. The changes have been proposed [Sacramento Bee report] in the wake of a video surfacing that shows California Corrections officials dousing mentally ill inmates in pepper spray. Judge Lawrence Karlton for the District Court for the Eastern District of California [official website] required reforms of the use of force standards after calling the use of pepper spray in the video "horrific" in an April judgment [text] against the CDCR. About 28% of California's 118,000 inmates suffer from mental illness [WSJ report].

The US prison system has faced controversy for years for its treatment of mentally ill prisoners. Colorado passed a bill [JURIST report] that would limit the use of traditional solitary confinement on inmates diagnosed with mental illness. In October 2013 a federal judge ordered the release [JURIST report] of a detainee at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST backgrounder] who suffered from severe mental illness. In October 2012 the US Supreme Court [official website] allowed the last-minute stay [JURIST report] of the planned execution of a mentally ill Florida prisoner. The Disability Law Center of Massachusetts [advocacy website] sued [JURIST report] that state's prisons as far back as March 2007 for violating the rights of mentally ill prisoners.

 

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