Riverside County inmates file class action suit

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Just in case you thought it was just the sheriff's department in San Bernardino County that was abusing inmates, here is a fresh case in Riverside County. This is not so salacious as the scandal ripping through West Valley and beyond--this is just about inadequate health care, which is of course a grave concern.

Here is an article from the Press-Enterprise:

http://www.pe.com/articles/county-749396-inmates-court.html

JAILS: Inmate lawsuit granted class-action status

BY RICHARD K. De ATLEY / STAFF WRITER
Published: Sept. 3, 2014 Updated: Sept. 4, 2014 5:00 p.m.
A civil rights lawsuit by some Riverside County jail inmates has been granted class-action status by a federal judge, giving thousands of inmates legal standing in the case that claims inadequate medical and mental health care and suicide prevention in the county’s five jails.
The 2013 lawsuit filed by attorneys with the Prison Law Office in Berkeley said the county has acted with “deliberate indifference” regarding those issues and others, such as inadequate numbers of health care personnel including physicians, even after county grand jury reports in 2011 and 2012 criticized medical and mental health care in the jails, which are overseen by the Sheriff’s Department.
“This is a case to reform care. We are not seeking money for our clients,” attorney Sara Norman of the Prison Law Office said Wednesday in a telephone interview.
“The county will conduct a thorough review of the decision before determining the appropriate response to the court,” Riverside County spokesman Ray Smith said in a statement.
The 116-page ruling issued late Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips in Riverside Federal Court says the most general class includes “all prisoners who are now, or will be in the future, subjected to the medical and mental health practices of Riverside County.”
At any given time there are about 4,000 inmates throughout the county system, which has been at its maximum legally permissible population since shortly after state prison realignment went into effect nearly three years ago.
That has forced more than 23,500 early releases since January 2012 and increased dangers for both jail personnel and inmates as longer-term prisoners were sentenced to facilities originally built for stays under a year. As of August, 496 of the facilities’ inmates were serving terms of three years or longer.
Problems Preceded Realignment
But the problems with medical and mental health care alleged in the lawsuit existed before prison realignment, and have only worsened since, Norman said.
Recent jail improvements spurred by realignment needs and not the legal action have expanded mental health care facilities inside the jails and added mental health care workers to interview new inmates.
Norman said those actions can’t take care of the systemic problems alleged in the lawsuit, such as problems getting an appointment to see a doctor or a psychiatrist or getting the right medication at the right time.
Phillips’ ruling means the plaintiffs can seek inspection visits of the jails by experts to further identify issues for trial.
Norman said the goal is to reach a reform plan with the county before that. She said Prison Law Office attorneys were approaching such an agreement in a similar lawsuit filed in Fresno County.
“We could do that (in Riverside County) now. The county can save a lot of time and money by agreeing to experts and agreeing to overhaul the system. That is better than going to trial, which is time consuming and expensive for both sides,” she said.
More than 9,300 Court Orders
Work already done by the legal team has cited problems with medication distribution, patient-doctor communication, alleged inadequate prevention work in three jail suicides, and 9,316 Superior Court orders “relating to medical or mental health treatment” issued between Jan. 1, 2011, and March 10, 2014.
“Some of the court orders appear to reflect a poor record of compliance by the defendant with previous court orders,” Phillips noted.
While the criminal court orders don’t prove that care was needed or previously denied, plaintiff experts said the number of orders was extraordinary, and the “sheer scope” of the orders required an accounting.
The county said in its court papers that judges did not inquire whether inmates had sought or filed grievances for medical care through regular channels before seeking a court order, and in some cases the care being sought by court order had already been scheduled or was not appropriate.
Among the other findings alleged by the inmates’ attorneys and their investigators were poor, untimely and sometimes incorrect delivery of medications in the jails.
“They can’t deliver medications on time – they seem utterly incapable of doing that in any of the jails,” Norman said.
Blood-level amounts of psychotropic drugs need to be constant for them to be effective, she said.
Investigators found that morning medications were delivered during a five-hour window and often late, and nighttime pills sometimes arrived early in the afternoon. Inmates had to choose at 2 p.m. whether to take or refuse sleeping pills meant for the night, she said.
In making her class-action ruling, Phillips also denied Riverside County’s bid to dismiss the lawsuit.
‘Inapplicable ... Misguided’ objections
The ruling was extraordinarily long, but Phillips noted within it that Riverside County had submitted “over 1,000 evidentiary objections,” which she characterized as “repetitive objections that are often obviously inapplicable” and “misguided.”
Phillips, who in 2009 overturned the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” law ahead of congressional action to repeal it the next year, said in a footnote of her Tuesday decision that Riverside County had the “audacity” to claim that the inmates’ attorneys could not reply to the county’s objections over one of the inmates’ expert’s declarations.
“The court finds no basis for the defendant’s contention,” she wrote, adding that she would consider the inmates’ responses to the county’s objections, not just for the one expert, but also for the plaintiff’s responses “to the hundreds of other evidentiary objections” the county had submitted.

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