Mentally Ill Prison Inmates Writhe in Pain from Pepper Spray Abuse

Mentally Ill Prison Inmates Writhe in Pain from Pepper Spray Abuse

After viewing “horrific” videos of California prison officials engaging in cruel behavior toward mentally ill inmates, a United States District Judge has ordered a revision of procedures for the application of force, especially in the use of pepper spray.

An article appearing in the Sacramento Bee, noted that the videos depicted the inmates screaming in agony and writhing in pain as the prison guards assaulted them with pepper spray from canisters the size of fire extinguishers for refusing to obey orders to come out of their cells. 

On Thursday, Judge Lawrence K. Karlton asserted that, although some strides have been made in improving the conditions for 33,000 mentally ill inmates in California facilities, further steps have to be taken. Karlton delivered a 74-page order that addresses the pepper spray issue as well as the administration of solitary confinement as a way of disciplining such inmates.

The Bee reported that last fall Karlton was visibly anguished by watching the chilling videos in the courtroom. Karlton wrote, “Most of the videos were horrific.” As required by law, before a prison official may use force against a prisoner, a prison staffer must videotape the occurrence. Attorneys for the inmates produced seventeen videos for the Judge to view, but Karlton claimed he had seen enough after watching six of them.

Michael Stainer, director of CDCR’s Division of Adult Institutions, referred to the videos as “at best, controlled chaos.” Sadly, one of the videos included the death of one of the inmates whose breathing tube was dislodged during one of the pepper spraying episodes.