California inmates with open, bleeding wounds routinely use communal showers and some suicidal prisoners are kept for hours inside small cages, witnesses testified in a lawsuit over state prison crowding, reports the Associated Press. Four guards who testified yesterday to a three-judge panel in San Francisco supported earlier evidence suggesting that substandard medical and mental health care is a result of packed prisons. The state, which argues that prison conditions are improving, was scheduled to begin its defense today.
California’s 33 adult prisons are designed to hold about 100,000 inmates, but house more than 156,000. Federal judges already have ruled that medical and mental health care is so poor in California prisons that it violates constitutional standards, sometimes contributing to inmates’ deaths. If the panel determines that overcrowding is the cause, it could order the early release of thousands of inmates, a move opposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The panel began hearing the case this week and hopes to complete it before Christmas.