Judge Orders Investigation of Possible Fraud in Prisoner Psychiatric Care Case

1 min
'Therapeutic modules' at California State Prison-Sacramento in 2014. (Julie Small/KQED)

A federal judge overseeing improvements to psychiatric care in California’s prisons plans to appoint an experienced fraud investigator to look into allegations that state officials gave her inaccurate or misleading data in a long-running civil lawsuit.

In an eight-page order issued late Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller said the investigation would focus first on whether prison leaders committed fraud upon the court.

The decision follows revelations in a report last month by the chief psychiatrist for the prisons, Dr. Michael Golding, who accused state officials of distorting data to mask the state’s failure to meet court-mandated deadlines for providing treatment for prisoners who suffer from mental illness.

Initially resistant to the idea of appointing an independent investigator to look into the allegations, Mueller wrote she was convinced to move forward after learning of a second whistleblower just last week.

“The court is persuaded that appointment of an experienced, highly competent, independent investigator is necessary to an efficient resolution of the issues presented by the Golding Report,” Mueller wrote.

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The judge also rebuked attorneys for the state for backtracking on their support for an independent investigation at a Nov. 5 status conference.

"Their change in position appears motivated by the desire to prevent any independent investigation at the court’s behest," Mueller stated. "But the court cannot shrink from the need to resolve the questions of fraud raised by Dr. Golding’s report."

The judge said she will also ask the investigator to consider whether the state needs to change how it reports to the court on prison psychiatric care, to make sure she gets an accurate picture of whether mental health care for inmates is improving.

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