Attorneys accuse CA prison officials of censoring report on inmate suicides

The state's California Medical Facility in Vacaville provides medical and psychiatric care to inmates.
The state's California Medical Facility in Vacaville provides medical and psychiatric care to inmates.

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Attorneys for California inmates have accused state officials of suppressing a critical report on suicides in prisons. Court papers filed this week show that an expert the state hired to review suicide prevention efforts called the  treatment of inmates “seemingly punitive” and “anti-therapeutic." 

The report surfaces ahead of a court hearing on whether to end a decade of federal oversight of psychiatric care in the prisons.

In January, Governor Jerry Brown declared the healthcare crisis in California’s prisons was “over.” He said the severe overcrowding that prompted federal judges to cap the prison population no longer prevents inmates from getting good medical and mental health care.

“We now have the documentary evidence to make our case,” the governor said. “I’m hopeful we’ll prevail in the Ninth Circuit Court. If we don’t, we have a direct appeal on the matter of the prison cap to the U.S. Supreme Court and we will go there if needed.”

When asked to respond to assertions from attorneys for the inmates that the rates of preventable deaths and suicides remain high, Brown said: “I categorically reject those!”  

Attorneys for inmates argue that California's high prison suicide rate — which has exceeded the national average for years — reflects a systemic failure to treat mental disorders. There were 32 prison suicides in 2012.

Now, as reported Thursday by the L.A. Times, court documents indicate that prison officials suppressed the full report by Lindsay Hayes, a suicide prevention expert hired by the state to examine the problem.

In August of 2011, Hayes wrote that prison practices drive suicidal inmates to say they’re feeling better, just to get out of small, bare holding cells. Hayes found that many of those inmates killed themselves within hours or days of release.

The court document also shows that the state asked Hayes to write a shorter report, without his critical remarks, that would be given to a federal monitor and the attorneys for inmates.

California's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.