Coleman v. Brown is a class action lawsuit on behalf of all California state prisoners with serious mental illness. The case challenges inadequate mental health care systems that place prisoners at serious risk of death, injury and prolonged suffering. After a full trial in 1995, the federal court issued an injunction requiring major changes in the prison mental health system.
Over the next 12 years, the skyrocketing inmate population overwhelmed the mental health and medical care systems. In 2007, plaintiffs’ counsel moved for orders capping the state prison population. A special three-judge court issued a population cap order in 2009, which the United States Supreme Court affirmed in 2011. In 2013, the state moved to terminate all relief. After full discovery and briefing, the trial court denied the motion to terminate. The court then held new trials in 2013 on key obstacles to bringing the mental health system into compliance, including inadequate access to inpatient psychiatric care, over-reliance on segregation (solitary confinement), and inadequate protections against use-of-force. The court ordered new changes to the mental health system to address use-of-force and segregation.
The Court is now focused on bringing the case to a conclusion by fixing long-term shortages in mental health staffing, and lack of access to crisis units for persons in life-threatening mental health crises. In late 2018, the state prisons’ chief psychiatrist told the Court in a detailed report that state officials had mislead the Court regarding the performance of the prison mental health system in an attempt to reduce staffing. The Court appointed a former United States Attorney to conduct an independent investigation, and has set a hearing for September 2019. Recent orders in Coleman are listed and linked below.
Selected Media Coverage
Judge threatens $1,000-a-day fines over mentally ill inmates, Associated Press (AP), April 19, 2017
Judge threatens state with $1000 per day fine over treatment of mentally ill inmates, Sacramento Bee, April 19, 2017
Judge threatens to fine California prisons for delayed mental health treatment, KQED Radio, April 20, 2017