At last count, the California state prison system housed 33,777 inmates diagnosed with significant mental illness, including 6,051 with severe conditions such as schizophrenia, says the Sacramento Bee. Despite Gov. Jerry Brown’s exhortations, federal judge Lawrence Karlton doesn’t seem prepared to give up control over their care any time soon. Karlton has presided over a suit to improve conditions for mentally ill prisoners since George Deukmejian was governor in 1990. He showed no sympathy last week when Brown’s lawyers argued that after spending billions, California exceeds the constitutional standards for the inmates’ care.
“During the life of these lawsuits, the prison health care budget has gone from $700 million to $2 billion,” Brown said. “That money is coming out of the university, it’s coming out of child care. It’s a situation you wouldn’t dream anyone would want.” Like Ronald Reagan before him and governors after him, Brown made spending and policy decisions during his first two terms that turned mentally ill people out of state hospitals, onto the streets and into prisons. In his third term, Brown has reduced prison population dramatically from a high of more than 170,000. As the prison population has fallen to 119,500, the number of mentally ill inmates has been constant. The mentally ill used to account for 20 percent of inmates. Now that the overall number is shrinking, the 33,777 mentally ill prisoners make up nearly 30 percent of the prison population.