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Court-appointed expert blasts California effort on prison suicides

March 13, 2013|By Paige St. John

This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

The lead mental health expert appointed to recommend ways for California to lower its prison suicide rate and assess the state's progress says conditions are so bad, he is giving up.

In a report filed Wednesday to update the federal court on California's climbing rate of prison suicides, Dr. Raymond Patterson blasted the state for failing to follow many of the recommendations he has made for 14 years. He said further recommendations are futile, leaving unclear what his own future role with the court might be.

Patterson's scathing report complicates California's efforts to convince U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton to end oversight of inmate mental health care. Karlton's decision was expected later this month.

The bulk of the report filed by Patterson and five other experts examines the first 15 of 32 suicides in California prisons in 2012. It notes the state now has almost 24 suicides per 100,000 inmates, an increase over 2011 and a rate that surpasses the national average for state prisons of 16. What's more, the court's experts said, inmates housed in California's segregation units were 33 times more likely to kill themselves.

It found three of the 15 suicides went undiscovered for hours, allowing rigor mortis to set in, and that 13 of the 15 deaths showed some form of inadequate assessment, treatment or intervention.

Patterson went beyond those findings to criticize California for delaying the availability of information on prison deaths, and to defend himself against attacks by the state that his reports are costly and repeat many of the same recommendations. He called California's contention it is no longer "indifferent" to inmate care -- a point central to the state winning its legal battle -- "disingenuous."

"Overall, defendants rely on the fact that they have a suicide-prevention program to refute claims of deliberate indifference to the problem of CDCR inmate suicides. While they have such a program, it is not effective," Patterson told the court.

"No matter how many times these recommendations are reiterated, they continue to go unheeded, year after year, while the suicides among CDCR inmates continue unabated, and is worsening."

He concluded his findings by declaring Wednesday's report would be the last in that form: "It has become apparent that continued repetition of these recommendations would be a further waste of time and effort."

[Updated 4:45 p.m. March 13: A spokesman within the corrections department refuted Patterson's allegation that California's failure to enact a program that works shows indifference. "Far from it," said spokesman Jeffrey Callison. "California has one of the most robust prison suicide prevention programs in the nation."

In addition, Callison said, however high the state's prison suicide rate is, some states have even higher rates, as do local jails.]

paige.stjohn@latimes.com

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