State still responsible for its inmates in county jails who need ‘basic necessities of life’
In court papers, state officials said they are no longer responsible for the care of the offenders affected by the state’s plan to relieve prison overcrowding by shifting the responsibility of low-level offenders from state to county control. A three-judge federal court disagreed, ruling that the state still owed a duty to disabled offenders in county jails.
Justice Stephen Reinhardt, speaking for the court, said the state is still responsible for the care of inmates who are in need of “basic necessities of life” such as “wheelchairs, sign language interpreters, accessible beds, toilets, and tapping canes.”
Although the court did not require the state to provide financial assistance to inmates or to county lockup facilities, the court found the state responsible for tracking those inmates and providing them with the means to file grievances.
State legislators recently amended California law to allow certain parole violators and those awaiting parole revocation hearings to be housed in county jails to thwart prison overcrowding.
The amendment places some parole violators and detainees in county jails under the “legal custody and jurisdiction of local county facilities.”
The state argued the law placed the responsibility of those inmates on county jail administrators. However, under the new law the state is still responsible for initiating parole revocation hearings and inmates going on state parole once released from the jails.
The court ruled that the state is still responsible for assisting county jails in providing “reasonable accommodations to the disabled prisoners and parolees that they house in county jails.”
Disabled inmates caught in the middle of this legal struggle are being forced into the “vulnerable position of being dependent on other inmates to enable them to obtain basic services,” reports the Los Angeles Times.
A second issue before the court is the state’s belief that the court’s order infringes on California’s right to restructure its criminal justice system in a way that bests suits its needs.
The court rejected this argument characterizing its order as “minimal measures” issued to protect the civil rights of disabled inmates. The “minimal measures” the court is now requiring the state to adhere to are “notifications, collection of data, and reports to county officials” on the needs of disabled inmates in county jails due to Realignment.
The court’s order stopped short of compelling the state to take any actions against county officials for not providing for the basic needs of disabled inmates.
The court pointed out that the state is already assuming responsibility for disabled life-term parolees and out-to-court inmates housed in county jails.
The court did not believe that the recent order would cause any extra burden on the state beyond what it was already doing.
“California’s ambitious restructuring of the criminal justice system should not merely push state prison ills onto county government,” The Press Enterprise editorial reports. The editorial points out that county jails are now being sued for the same issues plaguing its prison system surrounding mental and medical health care. “County jails were not designed for long-term stays with the health care, education and other services such confinement requires.”