After weeks of graphic courtroom testimony in federal court in 2013, including “horrific” videos of inmates with mental illness being blasted with pepper spray, U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton has found that the the use of force against these inmates, including the disciplinary use of solitary confinement, is unconstitutionally harsh.  In the April 10, 2014 ruling, Judge Karlton, cited some progress since the beginning of the trial, but ordered California prison officials to continue revising the use-of-force procedures and to limit the use of solitary confinement as a means of discipline for inmates with mental illness.  The full ruling is here: April 10 Coleman Order

According to RBGG’s Michael Bien, lead attorney for plaintiffs, as quoted in the Sacramento Bee, “It is a solid, well-thought-out order that should go far in remedying the problems exposed during the hearings.  Even while they were still going on, the state started to make changes that it had before refused to consider. It is our hope that, rather than fighting this order, the state will work with us in implementing it.”

Bien added in an interview with Associated Press: “He made findings in every area of ongoing constitutional violations. Despite all these years of legal efforts, he found that there needs to be more done.”
Judge Karlton has give state prison official 60 days in which to return to court with additional changes to their use of force policies.  He gave the state 30 days to develop a plan  “to limit or eliminate altogether” the practice of placing mentally ill inmates in segregation units to deal with problems that arise from their mental illness, rather than from a disciplinary issue.
“You can’t use force, harsh confinement and disciplinary measures without dealing with the fact our clients are seriously mentally ill,” Bien said in the Bee article. “The state still does not do that.”

Selected media coverage:

Judge finds treatment of California mentally ill inmates “horrific”, Sacramento Bee, April 10, 2014

Judge orders limits on use of pepper spray on mentally ill inmates, Los Angeles Times, April 10, 2014

Judge: California mistreating mentally ill inmates, Associated Press, April 10, 2014