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US judge finds California in contempt over prison mental health staffing

US judge finds California in contempt over prison mental health staffing

US judge finds California in contempt over prison mental health staffing

By Don Thompson KFF Health News

SACRAMENTO — A federal judge has found top California prison officials in civil contempt for failing to hire enough mental health professionals to adequately treat tens of thousands of incarcerated people with serious mental disorders.

On June 25, District Judge Kimberly Mueller ordered the state to pay $112 million in fines at a time when the state is trying to close a multibillion-dollar budget deficit. The fines have been piling up since April 2023, after Mueller said she was fed up with the state prison system’s inadequate staffing despite years of court orders requiring the state to address the problem.

“The sanctions imposed here are necessary to sharpen that focus and magnify defendants’ sense of urgency to finally achieve a lasting remedy for the chronic understaffing of mental health personnel in the state’s prison system,” Mueller said in his order in the lengthy class-action lawsuit.