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.  

Order of July 3, 2019, Regarding Crisis Beds and Suicide Prevention

Order of June 14, 2019, Setting Evidentiary Hearing on Independent Investigator Report

April 22, 2019 Report of Independent Investigator

Order of December 13, 2018 Appointing Independent Investigator

9th Circuit Order of November 28, 2018 Denying CDCR Appeal Regarding Crisis Bed Transfer Deadlines

9th Circuit Order of November 28, 2018 Rejecting CDCR Appeal Regarding Psychiatric Inpatient Transfer Deadlines

Order of October 25, 2018, Unsealing Report of Chief Psychiatrist

Order of October 12, 2018 Regarding Report of CDCR Chief Psychiatrist Calling Compliance Data Into Question

Order of July 21, 2018:  Staffing and How to Address Continued Growth of Mentally Ill Inmate Population

Order of July 3, 2018:  Staffing Ratios, Patient Clustering, Telepsychiatry

Order of Feb. 15, 2018: Address State’s Staffing Expert Tours, and Directing Parties to Address Measures Necessary to Resolve Staffing Shortages 

Order of Feb. 14, 2018:  Suicide Prevention Measures

Order of Feb. 21, 2018: Termination Motion Timing

Order of Jan. 25, 2018:  Suicide Prevention Measures

Order of Dec. 15, 2017:  Crisis Bed Transfer Deadlines

Order of Nov. 6, 2017:  Crisis Bed Transfer Deadlines

Order of Oct. 10, 2017:   Setting One-Year Deadline for Mental Health Program Staffing

Order of Oct. 10, 2017:  Crisis Bed Access

Order of Apr. 19, 2017:  Crisis and Inpatient Access

Selected Media Coverage

California Prison Psychiatry Chief Accuses State of Misleading Court on Mental Health Service; Judge Appoints Charles Stevens to Conduct Independent Investigation, December 1, 2018

California’s Mentally Ill Inmate Population Keeps Growing, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 2, 2018

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


More Information

Coleman Supreme Court History

Solitary Confinement and Coleman 2014 Orders