Suppressing issues in California jails

In Opinion

According to Gov. Jerry Brown, the crisis is over when it comes to unfair care in California jails. However, according to new evidence, this is far from the case.

A recent Los Angeles Times article reported that certain documents detailing poor care for prisoners in suicide watch had been suppressed. Large county jails holding thousands of inmates have not always been given the best reputation when it comes to cleanliness and a stringent definition of “safety.” With that said, why would evidence providing details of inhumane conditions in suicide watch areas be of any surprise?

Easy, because documents exploiting this information were suppressed, naturally raising public suspicions about the state’s leaders and the choices they are making.

According to an interview between the LA Times and Lindsay Hayes, a national expert on suicide prevention in prisons, the conditions for holding inmates under suicide watch comes with grim circumstances. By describing the state’s system of holding suicidal inmates for days in dirty and airless cells, Hayes expressed that it was only a matter of time before inmates took their own life. He mentioned that many inmates would act well just to escape the conditions of suicide watch, yet they would—soon after—take their own life.

Ultimately, was it fair for documents surrounding inmate conditions while under suicide watch to be suppressed? For documents to be hidden from the public eye? I strongly disagree with the suppression that took place.

The Constitution gives “We the people” the right to know what is going on inside of establishments that hold murderers, rapists and other unscrupulous characters, despite what the circumstances may be and how bad the government may look.

Hayes also discovered that out of 25 cases, seven prisoners had killed themselves within hours or days of being released from suicide watch.

California jails are not the only state with legal matters surrounding inmates on suicide watch. According to the Dayton Daily News in Ohio, the newspaper investigated several Ohio cases wherein, “Suicides were preceded by red flags that went undetected, misread or ignored.”

Maybe Ohio’s jails didn’t have documents suppressed or poor jail cell conditions, but the circumstances surrounding the lack of care are unfortunately similar in this case.

Staffing shortages was another problem in one prison psychiatric hospital. There, doctors managed more than 60 patients a day, occasionally handling up to a staggering 120 a day. The LA Times reported that soon after this was discovered, the California Department of State Hospitals hired additional psychiatric staff to alleviate the problem.

It seems that until someone stands up and states the truth of the matter or until someone tries to exploit a problem, nothing will get figured out. In these cases, suppression of an issue at large—poor prison conditions—has caused a ripple of issues throughout the state.

How can trust not be shaken, thrown and hurdled when it comes to these actions? It can’t.

My hope is that this situation with suicidal inmate conditions and understaffing gets solved one way or the other, because leaving this particular problem to its current handlers gets nothing done.

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