In an article on January 9, 2020, Judge overseeing state prisons case issues order to deal with increased suicides, the Daily Journal reported that there were 38 suicides in California prisons in 2019 – the most since the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) began tracking the statistic in 1990.  

Coleman v. Newsom 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. Attorneys at RBGG have represented the prisoner class, which now includes more than 32,000 individuals, since the case was first filed.  

RBGG’s Michael Bien is quoted in the article: “Unfortunately, we hit a new record in 2019.  The rate of suicide is now over 30 [per 100,000 inmates], which it’s never been as long as I’ve been tracking it.” 

Bien was also quoted in a recent San Francisco Chronicle article:  “Michael Bien, an attorney who has represented mentally ill clients in the Coleman case for much of his adult life, called the new suicide figures ‘quite terrible and disappointing,’ saying that California’s prisons ‘have more patients in the system than they can take care of.’  He added, ‘The suicide rate is just the most obvious statistic that emerges. We need to find a better way of taking care of mentally ill people than putting them in the criminal justice system.’”

According to the DJ, “U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller wrote in her order the ‘implementation of the suicide prevention steps required by prior orders . . . is taking too long.’  She added she would consider ordering ‘specific steps’ to bring the department into compliance if she was not satisfied.”

A quote from Bien concludes the article: “The judge is starting a period of quarterly status conferences to try to move the case along and be more proactive.  There’s just so many things going on.  She’s keeping everyone’s nose to the grindstone and making sure she’s more in control.”