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Bills proposed to stem violence at state mental hospitals

March 1, 2012 |  6:20 pm

State Sen. Sam BlakesleeA state lawmaker Thursday announced two bills that aim to stem the violence at California's state mental hospitals -- one that would keep drug users with temporary psychosis out of the facilities and another that would make it a felony for certain patients to assault the staff.

The legislation, written by Sen. Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo), was introduced Friday. If passed, it would apply to the state’s five mental hospitals, which largely house people accused or convicted of committing crimes related to their mental illness.

The first bill would require court-appointed psychiatrists and psychologists who evaluate defendants pleading not guilty by reason of insanity to include a review of addiction history in their reports. They also would have to note whether a defendant was under the influence when the crime was committed.

The state penal code currently says that a defendant cannot be deemed insane “solely on the basis of ... an addiction to, or abuse of, intoxicating substances.”

But patients who have committed crimes in the midst of methamphetamine-induced psychosis have successfully pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and been placed in a state hospital rather than of prison.

The second bill would make assault on any staff member an automatic felony for patients known as mentally disordered offenders. Those are former state prisoners whose crimes were linked to their mental illness and who were deemed too dangerous for parole.

Assault by any class of patient on a hospital police officer is currently deemed a felony. But efforts to extend the provision to hospital workers who deliver care have been vigorously opposed by patient rights and family groups. Those groups argue that patients who commit acts of violence because of their illness should not be further criminalized.  

Blakeslee’s bills come on the heels of other legislation passed last year that expedited the process of medicating certain patients against their will if they were found to pose an imminent danger to themselves or others.  Another, by Blakeslee, made it a misdemeanor to provide contraband such as tobacco, currency or wireless communication devices to patients.  


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Photo: State Sen. Sam Blakeslee during a session at the Capitol in January. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press