Transcript: Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown’s Q&A with Attorney Donald Specter on the role of federal courts in California’s prison reform before the Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment on Oct. 21, 2013

Partial transcript of Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown’s (D-San Bernardino) Q&A with Donald Specter, Attorney and Director of the Prison Law Office, on the role of federal courts in California prison reform. The hearing before the Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment was held on Oct. 21, 2013:

Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown (D-San Bernardino):
The percentage of mentally ill inmates?

Donald Specter, Attorney and Director of the Prison Law Office:
It’s about 20%.

Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown (D-San Bernardino):
It’s about 20%? Now, are they becoming mentally ill after they’re put into these cages or are they coming in with mentally ill issues?

Donald Specter, Attorney and Director of the Prison Law Office:
Both. Yeah, especially when they’re put in isolation units like those in Pelican Bay, they can de-compensate. Or in segregation units. A lot of them come in with serious mental illness and some of them de-compensate while they’re here.

Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown (D-San Bernardino):
Okay, so do you see any advantage in going back to a system where we had mental hospitals?

Donald Specter, Attorney and Director of the Prison Law Office:
Well, I see advantage of providing community mental health treatment. I’m not sure we need as many mental hospitals as we did but, you know, if you spend as much money providing community mental health care as you do providing the care in prison mental health care in prison, there’d probably be a lot less prisoners.

Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown (D-San Bernardino):
How will the Affordable Health Care Act change this whole scenario?

Donald Specter, Attorney and Director of the Prison Law Office:
I don’t – you know, I’ve heard that the Affordable Health Care Act has some implications for the financial aspects for prisons – the federal government may take up some of the tab for health care but I’m not an expert in that. I don’t know.

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