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Expert hired to help lower suicide rate in state prisons gives up

A watchtower rises above the maximum security complex Wednesday, March 7, 2001 at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, Calif.
Ben Margot/AP
A watchtower rises above the maximum security complex at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, Calif.

The expert hired by a federal court to help California lower its prison suicide rate said in a report Wednesday he’s so frustrated he’s going to stop trying.

In papers filed in federal court, Dr. Raymond Patterson condemned state prison officials for failing to reduce the inmate suicide rate, which he said is getting worse.

Patterson has analyzed inmate suicides in state prisons for more than a decade and made recommendations every year on how prison officials could reduce the suicide rate. 

In his report on 2012 suicides, Patterson wrote that his recommendations go “unheeded, year after year,” while suicides “continue unabated.” Patterson concluded that state prison officials just don’t care about the issue, and that making any more recommendations would be “a further waste of time and effort."

“This is a perfect example of deliberate indifference,” said Jane Kahn, an attorney for inmates who sued the state to provide them with adequate mental health care. The federal judge in the case ordered life-saving improvements years ago, she said.

In Kahn's words: “When you know what you need to do, when you’ve had recommendations, when there are court orders that require certain suicide prevention measures and they’re not implemented—for whatever reason--the end result is the same for our clients.” 

In a written statement, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said California "has one of the most robust prison suicide prevention programs in the nation.”

In an interview last month, Secretary of Corrections Jeff Beard said he takes suicide very seriously.

“I think any time you have any suicides it’s a problem,” he said. “You want to reduce it to the lowest possible number, ideally to zero. It’s something that you constantly have to work on.”  

Beard and the Brown administration want to be able to work on suicide prevention efforts without federal court mandates that have cost the state billions.

Governor Brown’s request to end federal oversight comes before U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton on March 27.