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Mentally Ill Prisoners in California 3 Times More Likely to Get Shuffled Around

CalMatters’ analysis of data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation found that, from 2016 to 2021, California prisoners in “enhanced outpatient” mental health treatment were moved three times more often, on average, than other prisoners. The data shows that incarcerated people in the system’s enhanced mental health program — which provides the highest level of outpatient mental health care for prisoners — averaged five moves during the time period, compared to an average 1.5 transfers for people in the general prison population. 

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In 1995, a federal court ruled that the department was not providing adequate mental health care to prisoners. The court eventually approved the Corrections Department’s plan for providing mental health care and appointed a special master to monitor and report on the state’s compliance.  
In 1995, a federal court ruled that the department was not providing adequate mental health care to prisoners. The court eventually approved the Corrections Department’s plan for providing mental health care and appointed a special master to monitor and report on the state’s compliance.  

By Byrhonda Lyons, Jocelyn Wiener and Erica Yee | CalMatters

California state prisons transfer people with serious mental illness far more frequently than other prisoners — sometimes moving them dozens of times — a CalMatters analysis of newly acquired state data has found.

The findings underscore a CalMatters investigation from earlier this year which revealed the state’s practice of shuffling around mentally ill prisoners, which some advocates say can be disruptive and damaging to these vulnerable people.

The story focused on the case of Adam Collier, who had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and anxiety disorder, among other mental illnesses.

Collier was serving a five-year sentence for exposing himself to women in public while high on meth. He was moved 39 times between 2016 and 2020 — bouncing among crisis units, state hospitals and seven different prisons — before he killed himself in Kern Valley State Prison in October 2020.

CalMatters’ analysis of data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation found that, from 2016 to 2021, California prisoners in “enhanced outpatient” mental health treatment were moved three times more often, on average, than other prisoners.

The data shows that incarcerated people in the system’s enhanced mental health program — which provides the highest level of outpatient mental health care for prisoners — averaged five moves during the time period, compared to an average 1.5 transfers for people in the general prison population.

One person, who was in and out of the mental health program, moved 75 times during the six-year period. The data does not identify any individuals.

“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Keramet Reiter, a criminology professor at the University of California, Irvine. “The seriously mentally ill people…bounce around a bit.”

CalMatters had requested the state’s transfers data on March 31, 2022; the department responded on Aug. 1 and Sept. 16. For its June story, CalMatters collected its own data about prison transfers for about a year, which generally mirrors the state’s records during the same timeframe.

“Transfers for an inmate are disruptive,” said Christopher Lisieski, the attorney representing Collier’s mother in a federal lawsuit against several prison employees. “Disrupting someone’s routine who’s severely mentally ill is additional stress and strain and can worsen mental health symptoms.”

Advocates, prisoners, and family members contend that, in cases like Collier’s, a steady stream of transfers reflects a system that too often fails to adequately care for people in mental health crises. These incarcerated people might bounce between prisons and short-term crisis beds without ever stabilizing enough to get better, they say.

In California, mental health care in state prisons is designed so that incarcerated people transfer to appropriate levels of care as their needs change. Treatments range from outpatient therapy in the general prisoner population to long-term hospitalization in treatment facilities within the correctional system.

Prisoners needing the highest level of care could be sent to state hospitals, which are separate facilities that also house people who are not in the criminal justice system.

But the system doesn’t always work perfectly. In several investigations, the Inspector General has determined that people who need it sometimes aren’t referred to a higher level of care.

In other cases, experts say, multiple transfers can mean the system is working and people are getting the care they need.

Department spokesperson Dana Simas wrote in an emailed statement that the state transfers prisoners for a variety of reasons, including court hearings, medical treatment, mental health treatment, changes in security level, patient safety, staff conflicts, misconduct allegations or parole.

In California, prison mental health treatment policies are governed by a federal class-action lawsuit — known as Coleman — on behalf of prisoners with serious mental illness.

In 1995, a federal court ruled that the department was not providing adequate mental health care to prisoners. The court eventually approved the Corrections Department’s plan for providing mental health care and appointed a special master to monitor and report on the state’s compliance.

“The department works closely with the Coleman special master and others on these matters, and always strives for what is in the best interest of the patient’s individual needs,” Simas wrote in an email to CalMatters.

Special master Matthew A. Lopes Jr. did not respond to CalMatters’ request for comment.

In Collier’s case, he moved so frequently that his mother, Susan Ottele of McMinnville, Ore., started “every single, solitary day” checking online to see which prison was holding Collier and why.

When the pandemic hit, the prisons went on lockdown, and Collier sat inside Kern Valley State Prison for seven months. It was his longest stay at any prison since 2016.

“With all these transfers, I’m fucking dizzy,” Collier wrote in a letter to Ottele in March 2020. Months later, at age 43, Collier killed himself.

The Office of the Inspector General investigated Collier’s suicide and found that the department had “poorly handled” Collier’s case. The inspector general’s March 2021 report described an array of internal problems, including clinicians improperly delaying Collier’s referral to a higher level of care and failing to adequately document his history of self-harm.

Earlier this year, Ottele filed a wrongful death complaint in federal court, alleging that prison guards failed to monitor her son and acted with deliberate indifference.

In court documents, state attorneys deny these claims, saying the guards were not aware of Collier’s history of suicide attempts. The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing pending litigation. Lisieski, Ottele’s attorney, said the case likely won’t be resolved for years.

Activism

Oakland Post: Week of June 12-18, 2024

The printed Weekly Edition of the Oakland Post: Week of June 12-18, 2024

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ICAC Invites Community to Benefit from Safe Car Park Program

The Interfaith Council of Alameda County (ICAC) will hold a meeting to announce a faith-based expansion of overnight safe car parking for unhoused families on Thursday, June 13, 2024, from 1-2 p.m. at Williams Chapel Baptist Church located at 1410 10th Avenue in Oakland. The ICAC President, Rev. Ken Chambers, announced that Williams Chapel, pastored by Rev. Kenneth Anderson, and members of ICAC, has also planned to open an overnight safe car parking program and day center to provide unhoused neighbors and families with wrap-around services.

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Chambers said, "ICAC's goal is to just serve Oakland by helping to make the community surrounding 10th Avenue and International Boulevard both welcoming and safe."
Chambers said, "ICAC's goal is to just serve Oakland by helping to make the community surrounding 10th Avenue and International Boulevard both welcoming and safe."

by Post Staff

The Interfaith Council of Alameda County (ICAC) will hold a meeting to announce a faith-based expansion of overnight safe car parking for unhoused families on Thursday, June 13, 2024, from 1-2 p.m. at Williams Chapel Baptist Church located at 1410 10th Avenue in Oakland.

The ICAC President, Rev. Ken Chambers, announced that Williams Chapel, pastored by Rev. Kenneth Anderson, and members of ICAC, has also planned to open an overnight safe car parking program and day center to provide unhoused neighbors and families with wrap-around services.

Rev. Chambers said additional support for the program will also come from Bishop Bob Jackson, Pastor of Acts Full Gospel Church and Pastor Phyllis Scott, head of the Oakland Police Chaplaincy Program.

Chambers said, “ICAC’s goal is to just serve Oakland by helping to make the community surrounding 10th Avenue and International Boulevard both welcoming and safe.”

David Longhurst, a member of Oakland Temple LDS Church and an ICAC board member, said

“We can make the city of Oakland safer, one block at a time, by connecting our community and neighbors.”

Chambers said ICAC has a $450,000 grant commitment from the City of Oakland and a $2.5M grant request has been presented to Nate Miley, President of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors President Nate Miley to cover and expand ICAC’s Safe Car Park Program located at West Side Missionary Baptist Church to additional locations including Center Street Baptist Church, Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church, Corinthians Baptist Church, Allen Temple Baptist Church, Acts Full Gospel Church, and other congregations.

Dr. Ken Chambers said he and ICAC are assisting congregations on how to receive a one-time $5,000 grant. “ICAC has plans for several tiny homes with kitchens, living space and bathrooms that we hope will become available this fall in partnership with the State, County and City of Oakland.”

Chambers is appealing to the public to help with transitioning the unhoused populations into tiny homes or affordable housing. “If you or anyone you know is living out of a car and needs a safe place to park overnight, visit interfaithAC.org, call 510-239-6681, or stop by the ICAC hub at 732 Willow Street, Oakland, CA 94607 between the hours of 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.”

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Calif. Leaders Discuss Foster Care Reform Strategies for Black and Brown Youth

Before becoming a nationally recognized social justice leader and a member of California’s Mandated Reporting Taskforce, Shane Harris spent 13 years as a foster care youth after he lost both of his parents. As President of the national civil rights organization, People’s Association of Justice Advocates (PAJA), he’s aiming to solve some of the toughest challenges Black and Brown children in the foster care system face.

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Shane Harris, PAJA President and member of the California Mandated Reporting Taskforce (center) with Hafsa Kaka, Senior Advisor on Homelessness to Governor Gavin Newsom and Dr. Janet Kelly, Founder & Director of Sanctuary of Hope LA (far right) (Lila Brown CBM)
Shane Harris, PAJA President and member of the California Mandated Reporting Taskforce (center) with Hafsa Kaka, Senior Advisor on Homelessness to Governor Gavin Newsom and Dr. Janet Kelly, Founder & Director of Sanctuary of Hope LA (far right) (Lila Brown CBM)

By Lila Brown, California Black Media  

 Before becoming a nationally recognized social justice leader and a member of California’s Mandated Reporting Taskforce, Shane Harris spent 13 years as a foster care youth after he lost both of his parents. As President of the national civil rights organization, People’s Association of Justice Advocates (PAJA), he’s aiming to solve some of the toughest challenges Black and Brown children in the foster care system face.

During National Foster Care Month in May, Harris visited the Sanctuary of Hope in Los Angeles to host a roundtable meeting with current and former foster youth, many of whom, like Harris, have beat the odds and become successful professionals.

According to the federal government’s Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, there are nearly 370,000 American children and youth in foster care.

Nationally, Black children are overrepresented in foster care. According to datacenter.kidscount.org, Black children represented 14% of the total child population in the United States. However, they represented 23% of all children in foster care. Harris pointed out that one out of every four foster youth go homeless upon exiting foster care in California. Across the state, there are nearly 65,000 children in foster care, he added. Of the 65,000 children in foster care across California, 14,000 of them are Black American.

Harris also announced a new effort already underway to push for the removal of the term “case” in L.A. County when referring to foster youth during the roundtable which featured Hafsa Kaka, Senior Advisor to Gov. Gavin Newsom and Janet Kelly, the Founder and Director of Sanctuary of Hope. The session focused on solving problems foster youth face.

Sharing personal stories, insights, and various visions for policy changes, the participants discussed numerous solutions and addressed specific concerns about ongoing challenges with the foster care system.

One top priority was how to close the foster care to homelessness pipeline for the disproportionate number of Black and Brown children in LA County’s and the state’s foster care system.

“When you see the direct connection between the disproportionate rates of Black children in foster care and the disproportionate rates of Black people in the general homeless population, there is a very clear connection there in which our foster youth are coming out of care,” stated Harris during opening remarks.

Kaka said the governor has been intentional about making sure that foster children are homeless prioritized as the state addresses homelessness.

“This is a critical moment for foster care,” said Kaka. “The systems that are working together are looking at leveraging federal, state and local funds.”

Harris said he has already begun efforts in San Diego County to drop the word “case” when referring to homeless youth.

“We are asking for a 90-day public input period, in which the county CEO and leadership can facilitate discussions with the community on replacement terminology. There’s plenty of ideas,” Harris elaborated.

Kelly said a majority of the youth who go through the Sanctuary of Hope program are young people who have experienced some form of housing instability or housing crisis.

“The goal of the work that we do is really centered around helping young people leave here with leadership skills and other forms of what we call protective factors in order for them to continue on with their stabilization journey and become loving, caring and active citizens in this world,” Kelly said.

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