California prison officials plan to open special solitary confinement units for the mentally ill as part of an effort to comply with court orders to improve their care, the Los Angeles Times reports. The cellblocks, while still isolating prisoners from the rest of the population and largely from one another, will increase the time those inmates are allowed outside their cells and the amount of treatment they receive. In a memo to wardens filed in court Friday, state prisons director Michael Stainer described an intent to “offer a robust mental health program” within what he called “alternative segregated housing.”
U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton accepted the plan, commending both the state and inmate lawyers for the “substantial effort.” State Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard described the new units, along with new court-ordered policies curtailing the use of pepper spray on mentally ill prisoners, as “lasting cultural changes” in the state’s sprawling prison system. Beard’s statement is in sharp contrast to California’s stance last year, when Gov. Jerry Brown declared that Karlton was attempting to “gold plate” the care of mentally ill prisoners. State lawyers fiercely opposed motions to change the treatment of those inmates.