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Settlement Reached in California Psychiatric Disabilities Class-action Suit

On August 7, 2014, federal district court judge Lawrence K. Karlton granted preliminary approval of a settlement in a class-action suit brought by California state prisoners who suffer from mental illnesses. The settlement ensures that such prisoners will not be excluded from prison programs and services or discriminated against on the basis of their mental health disabilities.

This class-action federal lawsuit was originally filed in 2005 by seventeen California prisoners with psychiatric disabilities. The class has been represented by San Francisco attorneys Michael Bien and Blake Thompson with the law firm of Rosen Bien Galvan and Grunfeld LLP, and by Claudia Center with the ACLU Foundation’s Disability Rights Program. The complaint was brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.

Pursuant to the settlement agreement, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) policies will be revised to ensure prisoners with psychiatric disabilities are not excluded from prison programs and services, or discriminated against due to their mental illnesses. The settlement includes specific provisions that prisoners in the Enhanced Outpatient Program (EOP) be given access to educational programs, vocational programs and jobs if approved by their treatment team; that prisoners in the EOP receive milestone credits for their participation in EOP groups and programs; that prisoners taking heat-sensitive medications be given time outside their cells during heat alerts; and that Requests for Accommodation be processed under the guidelines established for prisoners with physical disabilities.

Enforcement of the agreement will be by the Special Master appointed by the federal court in Coleman v. Brown, a separate suit involving mentally ill California state prisoners. [See, e.g.: PLN, Nov. 2015, p.56]. No monetary damages were sought. Fees for class counsel will be addressed as part of the Coleman case.

The district court granted final approval of the settlement on March 2, 2015, after notice of the settlement agreement was posted in all CDCR inpatient mental health units. See: Hecker v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:05-cv-02441-KJM-DAD.

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Related legal case

Hecker v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation