Video footage of naked, screaming inmates being drenched with pepper spray was aired in federal court yesterday as evidence in a lawsuit to force California to improve its treatment of mentally ill state prisoners, reports the Los Angeles Times. U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton’s Sacramento courtroom was filled with panicked screams from videos showing prisoners in pain, begging for help and pleading for the spraying to stop, while guards shouted over and over, “Cuff up!”
One inmate had been playing with his feces and refused to take medication. In another case, guards attempted to move a prisoner to a mental health “crisis” bed. “They are extremely upsetting, but the thing that is so striking is that in each case, the force is being used for the inmates’ ‘own good,’ ” said Michael Bornstein, a lawyer for mentally ill inmates. The legal action asks the federal judge to order new restrictions on the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, including a prohibition on using pepper spray on the mentally ill. Experts for the state have filed their own reports contending that California has “heightened system-wide safeguards” to prevent abuse of mentally ill inmates.