Attorneys for the state and those representing prison inmates presented starkly different views Thursday of prison guards' use of pepper spray against the mentally ill, as closing arguments got underway in a federal use-of-force trial.
At issue is whether the heavy use of pepper spray by state prison guards against some mentally ill inmates violates prisoners' civil rights.
The state's own expert witness testified that guards use pepper spray far too often and in quantities that are too great. He also said previous recommendations for changes were rejected or ignored.
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Separately, the judge is considering whether mentally ill inmates on death row are given proper treatment.
The hearing over excessive force centered on the videos, which were recorded by correctional officers as part of their official duties. The death row debate was punctuated by the story of a condemned inmate who punched out his own eyes with a pair of ball point pens. The psychotic inmate tried to kill himself three times at San Quentin State Prison but was never hospitalized. He finally hanged himself in April.
The judge and lawyers representing inmates and the state agreed that there have been significant improvements in caring for condemned inmates in recent years. The question is whether they have gone far enough or whether a licensed psychiatric hospital unit is needed at San Quentin.
Karlton's written rulings on the alleged excessive use of force and the treatment of condemned inmates are expected in coming weeks.