A report on the state of mental healthcare in California's prison system was recently made public, and amidst the gruesome details about the system's inhumanity in dealing with mentally ill prisoners was the story of an inmate who ripped out her own eyeball — and then swallowed it.
Dr. Michael Golding, the chief psychiatrist for the California prison system, recently released a damning 161-page document detailing the failings of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and accusing the organization of concealing certain issues from officials who could potentially improve the situation, according to The LA Times.
“This group has created a biased and inaccurately positive picture of what is actually a troubled system of care,” Golding stated in his report, created after several visits to institutions across the state. The report is part of a lawsuit against California, which asserts that psychiatric care in prison is a constitutional right.
Among the many accusations, Golding claimed that patients are not seen in private environments conducive to mental health treatment, noting that instead communication between office staff and inmates frequently occurs between walls or in prison yards. Golding also alleged that staff inflated statistics about the timeliness of patient visits so the facilities would appear more functional than they are in reality.
The story of Inmate Patient X stands out in particular.
Patient X, an inmate diagnosed as "psychotic" at the California Institution for Women in Chino, had refused medication for her condition in 2017 and was placed on suicide watch. Documentation shows she had screaming fits every 15 minutes for four hours before plucking out her own eye and swallowing it. Guards were too late to come to her aid to rescue the eye.
Documents showed that Patient X had been evaluated by a psychologist who did not call for a psychiatrist who could administer her medicine, despite notes that her condition was critical enough to need immediate attention — potentially with force.
“The tragedy is that any competent psychiatric physician or general medical physician would have medicated the patient, and likely the patient’s eye would still be in her head had that happened,” Golding wrote of the incident.
Michael Bien, an attorney representing state prisoners receiving mental health treatment, expressed horror at Golding's findings.
“The bigger impact is we felt we were ticking off the last couple of issues before we could end the case,” Bien said. “Now I have to go back and check all those assumptions. The most serious thing is the allegation that misrepresentations were made to the court. That really forces all of us to question what’s been going on.”
Vicky Waters, press secretary for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, has denied Golding's assertions.
“The department strongly disagrees with this individual’s allegations, and looks forward to a fair and thorough review and hearing of all the facts,” she said. “We have worked closely with lawyers representing prisoners, as well as the court appointment monitors, for many years to improve the mental health of inmates, and our dedicated and well-trained staff will continue to provide appropriate care and treatment.”
[Photo: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli]
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