New psych ward to open on
California's death row : report
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[June 12, 2014]
By Jennifer Chaussee
SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters)
- Under pressure to improve mental health treatment for
inmates in California's massive prison system, officials
plan to build a new psychiatric ward to provide
inpatient mental health care for prisoners on death row,
according to a court-ordered report.
The new ward, set to open on Oct. 1, will serve severely mentally
ill prisoners on death row at the San Quentin prison near San
Francisco, said the report filed late Tuesday.
Matthew Lopes, a special master overseeing mental health care in
California's prisons, found that 37 severely mentally ill death row
inmates at San Quentin prison near San Francisco were entitled to
24-hour inpatient care in a hospital but were not getting it.
Lopes, assigned to develop the report by federal Judge Lawrence K.
Karlton last December, said he had worked with state officials and
lawyers representing inmates to draft plans for a new ward.
"They were refusing to transfer them (to a mental hospital) because
they said it was too dangerous," said Ernest Galvan, who is part of
a legal team representing the state's estimated 36,000 mentally ill
Currently, 743 prisoners are on death row in California, although
the state has not executed anyone since 2006, according to state
The fight over how to best care for those on death row who are
severely mentally ill is the latest example of ongoing tensions over
medical and mental health care for inmates in the state's massive
California is also under court orders to reduce the population in
its overcrowded prisons, a condition a panel of federal judges said
led to inadequate mental health and medical care.
Last summer, inmates protesting the indefinite detention of those
believed to be affiliated with prison gangs in near-solitary
conditions started a hunger strike that lasted two months and at its
peak attracted 30,000 prisoners.
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In December, a federal district court ordered the state to provide
inpatient hospital care to severely mentally ill inmates on death
Lopes' report urged the state to expedite the process of
retrofitting an existing section of San Quentin so that qualifying
prisoners could receive care as soon as possible.
"We will continue to work with all parties involved to see this
project to completion," said Deborah Hoffman, spokeswoman for the
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
(Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Jim Loney)
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