The new medical facility for prisoners in Stockton, California, run by the state's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), was supposed to help correct the systemic problems CDCR has in providing adequate medical, dental and mental health care to prisoners.
But what good is a shiny new facility if the staff inside is too shorthanded to care for the prisoners?
According to the union representing psychiatric technicians working at the nearly 3,000-bed, $1 billion Stockton prison—which opened in 2013- employees there were pressured by supervisors to falsify log sheets certifying that they had checked on suicidal prisoners once every 12 to 15 minutes, as required by standards imposed in response to federal court orders.
It was unclear if two suicide attempts in the mental health crisis unit in May and June 2014 occurred during the time when staff faked the suicide- watch records, according to CDCR spokeswoman Dana Simas. Both prisoners survived, she said.
Two workers who claimed to have been too busy doing other things to check on prisoners in the prison's mental health crisis unit were disciplined when video surveillance showed they had lied. Another worker won back her job, however, after she alleged her supervisor had told her to fake the suicide-watch log, and video showed that she was actually fulfilling other duties when she should have been checking on the prisoners.
The video "illustrates the problem that we're talking about," said Steve Basoff, an attorney for the California Association of Psychiatric Technicians. "They had other duties they were performing, so they essentially couldn't be in two places at once."
The union blames inadequate staffing for putting psych technicians in the position of choosing which duties are more vital than others, even when all of the duties are required by law, including checking on suicidal prisoners.
A consultant recommended in the summer that the Stockton facility hire at least one additional psychiatric technician for each shift in the crisis unit.
According to a March 2013 court-ordered report by forensic psychiatrist Dr. Raymond Patterson, prisoners housed in CDCR's segregation units, Administrative Segregation Units and Security Housing Units are 33 times likelier to commit suicide. Thirteen of 15 prisoner suicides in 2012 reviewed by Patterson and a team of experts—out of 32 committed across the state—"showed some form of inadequate assessment, treatment or intervention.
Between 2006 and 2010, there was an average of 34 suicides in CDCR prisons each year, with almost half occurring in segregation units. California's overall prison suicide rate, meanwhile, of nearly 24 per 100,000 exceeds the national state prison average of 16 per 100,000.
Attorneys from the Berkeley-based Prison Law Office (PLO) toured the Stockton prison in July 2014, but were not told about the faked suicide- watch logs. PLO director Don Specter said the false documents needed to be investigated further.
"These welfare checks were put in there because of the extremely high suicide rate we have in California," Specter said. "It's a serious issue. It could mean the difference between life and death."
Sources: www.solitarywatch.com, The Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, www.therepublic.com
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