US Judge Finds California in Contempt Over Prison Mental Health Staffing

by | Jun 26, 2024 | Health

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A federal judge has found top California prison officials in civil contempt for failing to hire enough mental health professionals to adequately treat tens of thousands of incarcerated people with serious mental disorders.

Chief U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller on June 25 ordered the state to pay $112 million in fines at a time when the state is trying to close a multibillion-dollar budget deficit. The fines have been accumulating since April 2023, after Mueller said she was fed up with the state prison system’s inadequate staffing despite years of court orders demanding that the state address the issue.

“The sanctions imposed here are necessary to sharpen that focus and magnify defendants’ sense of urgency to finally achieve a lasting remedy for chronic mental health understaffing in the state’s prison system,” Mueller said in her order in the long-running class-action lawsuit.

The ongoing harm “caused by these high vacancy rates is as clear today as it was thirty years ago and the harm persists despite multiple court orders requiring defendants to reduce those rates,” she added.

Mueller ordered the state to pay the fines within 30 days and said they “will be used exclusively for steps necessary to come into compliance with the court’s staffing orders.” She ordered California to keep paying additional fines for each month the state remains in violation of court orders.

The ruling was unwelcome news for Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is struggling with a budget deficit that’s forcing reductions in numerous state programs.

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The contempt finding “is deeply flawed, and it does not reflect reality,” said Diana Crofts-Pelayo, a Newsom spokesperson. “Amid a …

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A federal judge has found top California prison officials in civil contempt for failing to hire enough mental health professionals to adequately treat tens of thousands of incarcerated people with serious mental disorders.

Chief U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller on June 25 ordered the state to pay $112 million in fines at a time when the state is trying to close a multibillion-dollar budget deficit. The fines have been accumulating since April 2023, after Mueller said she was fed up with the state prison system’s inadequate staffing despite years of court orders demanding that the state address the issue.

“The sanctions imposed here are necessary to sharpen that focus and magnify defendants’ sense of urgency to finally achieve a lasting remedy for chronic mental health understaffing in the state’s prison system,” Mueller said in her order in the long-running class-action lawsuit.

The ongoing harm “caused by these high vacancy rates is as clear today as it was thirty years ago and the harm persists despite multiple court orders requiring defendants to reduce those rates,” she added.

Mueller ordered the state to pay the fines within 30 days and said they “will be used exclusively for steps necessary to come into compliance with the court’s staffing orders.” She ordered California to keep paying additional fines for each month the state remains in violation of court orders.

The ruling was unwelcome news for Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is struggling with a budget deficit that’s forcing reductions in numerous state programs.

Email Sign-Up

Subscribe to KFF Health News’ free Morning Briefing.

The contempt finding “is deeply flawed, and it does not reflect reality,” said Diana Crofts-Pelayo, a Newsom spokesperson. “Amid a …nnDiscussion:nn” ai_name=”RocketNews AI: ” start_sentence=”Can I tell you more about this article?” text_input_placeholder=”Type ‘Yes'”]

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