When a mentally ill inmate at California’s Corcoran state prison stripped himself naked, yelled that he was the “creator” and threatened to kill himself, guards responded by dousing him with 44 rounds of pepper spray, including four grenades of the caustic chemical. The Los Angeles Times says the 2011 incident was one of several that prompted the state’s own expert to recommend major policy changes to curb excessive use of force. Lawyers representing about 33,000 mentally ill inmates are asking a federal judge to force the state to adopt those and other measures.
The motions come after Gov. Jerry Brown unsuccessfully tried to end court oversight of prison mental health care. A federal judge rejected Brown’s request, and during the legal battle, inmates’ lawyers obtained new access to California’s 33 prisons. They are now using information about conditions there to seek new orders against the state, including a limit on housing mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement. The filings are part of a long-running, federal class-action lawsuit against California. The 23-year-old case, with another over medical care, has led to court-ordered population caps, federal receivership, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the state, and threats to hold California’s governors in contempt.