Circuit Slams California Prisons for Understaffing

     (CN) – The 9th Circuit revived claims over the suicide of a man in a California state prison where he was left unsupervised for several hours because of a staff meeting.
     Civil rights abuses in California prisons has long been a legal issue, and they system currently faces a court order to release 10,000 prisoners in the next four months or face contempt charges.
     On Wednesday, the federal appeals court took the state to task for inadequately staffing its prisons despite knowledge since at least 2004 that the suicide rate in California prisons is almost double the national average.
     Officers with the California State Prison (CSP) at Solano found Robert St. Jovite unconscious in his prison cell on May 10, 2006, after returning from a staff meeting that left the cells unpatrolled for up to three and a half hours.
     St. Jovite had been housed in a prison building reserved for inmates with serious psychiatric illnesses, but these prisoners were not provided more security than those without mental health issues, according to the ruling. His cellmate said he had been sleeping and awoke to find St. Jovite hanging from the grill above the sink.
     St. Jovite’s parents, daughter and estate sued the Department of California Corrections, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the wardens of CSP-Solano and individual correctional officers, claiming that the complete withdrawal of all supervision created a unconstitutional risk of harm to the inmates.
     They also claimed that the officers did not immediately get medical help for St. Jovite, and never administered CPR.
     A federal judge in Sacramento granted the defendants summary judgment, but the 9th Circuit found Wednesday that the case should go to a jury.
     “Plaintiffs have established a triable issue of fact as to whether the withdrawal of all floor staff from Building 8 for up to three and a half hours created an objectively substantial risk of harm to the unsupervised inmates in Building 8,” Judge Richard Clifton wrote for the three-judge panel. “At CSP-Solano, as in most prisons, inmate suicides and violence are the primary dangers floor officers are charged with preventing.”
     Prison officials testified that the prison at Solano was especially violent, and that leaving prisoners unsupervised for extended periods of time was not permissible.
     “On such a record a reasonable jury could find that the withdrawal of all floor officers posed a substantial risk that some inmate would come to harm, either self-inflicted or otherwise, and that an inmate suffering such harm would not receive swift medical attention as a result of the inadequate staffing,” Clifton wrote.
     The court also revived claims against individual correctional officers for failing to administer CPR while waiting for medical staff to arrive.
     “While the failure to provide CPR to a prisoner in need does not create an automatic basis for liability in all circumstances, a trier of fact could conclude that, looking at the full context of the situation, officers trained to administer CPR who nonetheless did not do so despite an obvious need demonstrated the deliberate indifference required for an Eighth Amendment claim,” the 42-page opinion states.

%d bloggers like this: