A federal judge said this week that she will begin fining California potentially tens of thousands of dollars daily after more than 200 prison inmates killed themselves during eight years in which state corrections officials failed to complete court-ordered suicide prevention measures.
Addressing a chronic tragedy that has plagued the state for decades, Chief U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller said she will start the fines April 1 — $1,000 a day for each of 15 unmet safeguards until all the state’s 34 adult prisons are in full compliance.
At the same time, she will impose fines for the state’s failure to hire enough mental health professionals. And she set a hearing for August to collect more than $1.7 million in fines that have accumulated since 2017 under a previous order punishing delays in transferring inmates to state mental hospitals.
“The court is at a critical crossroads,” Mueller wrote weeks ahead of her order, which was made public Tuesday. She said inmates with serious mental disorders make up more than one-third of California’s prison population of about 96,000 and they have “waited far too long for constitutionally adequate mental health care.”
State officials said they will review the judge’s orders. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson Vicky Waters said in a statement that “suicide prevention is a very important issue for us.”
In court filings, state officials objected to Mueller’s setting “an unworkable, all but impossible standard.” They pointed to lower suicide rates each of the …