Federal judge rules California officials violated rules of ethics in Coleman v. Brown

California Institute for Men's B-Facility – Cuffed Reception Center Inmates Awaiting Medical Appointments, Often for Several Hours. SOURCE: Coleman v. Brown declaration of Dr. Edward Kaufman for the plaintiffs.

California officials and their consultants violated the rules of ethics when they interviewed mentally ill prisoners without permission and used the information collected to justify state’s request to terminate federal oversight of the state’s mental health system, a federal judge ruled on Friday.

Read more: ANALYSIS: “Profound” ethical violations undermine expert testimonies in California’s bid to lift federal oversight of prison system

U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton struck down the reports submitted by four state-hired experts – Dr. Joel A. Doskin, Dr. Jacqueline M. Moore, Dr. Charles L. Scott, and Steve J. Martin – after finding that they had improperly “sought out” and interviewed inmates with “serious mental disorders” in all 13 California prisons that they inspected in 2012.

“The court finds that Defendants [state officials] violated their professional duty,” wrote Karlton. “Defendants [California officials] used the information they gleaned from the inmates against the inmates, in support of their motion to terminate and to vacate the injunction.”

Without the experts’ reports, the state lacks sufficient evidence to support its motion to terminate federal oversight of California’s prison mental health system.

Read more: Transcript: Excerpts from the Coleman v. Brown hearing at U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California on March 27, 2013

Attorneys representing the prisoners said they were not notified of the state experts’ site visits or of their intention to interview inmates about the adequacy of the California’s prison mental health services.

State officials claimed that their experts’ interactions with the inmates were “innocuous”. However, Karlton pointed out that the state experts’ reports made clear that the “inmate interviews were not…simply occasional, unintended by-products of the inspections.”

“Rather, at every facility the defense experts visited, they without fail sought out class members – inmates with serious mental disorders – for their interviews,” wrote Karlton. “The interviews were among the critical pieces of information that formed the ‘basis’ for the experts’ report”

As a result, Karlton found, the information gathered from the interviews with prisoners are “tainted.”

Karlton also noted that the state-hired experts’ prison inspections and interviews took place around the same time when the state obtained a court order to block the prisoners’ experts from conducting site inspections to verify “efforts to reduce prison overcrowding” – the underlying cause of the state’s inability to provide timely and adequate mental health treatment to prisoners.

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