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Verdicts & Settlements

San Quentin Psychiatrist Wins Suit After State Changes Lead to Prisoner Suicide

— October 19, 2018

A San Quentin psychiatrist has been awarded $800,00 after he accused corrections staff of illegal retaliation.

Christopher Wadsworth, who the Sacramento Bee reports served as the prison’s chief psychiatrist, received the settlement last year. Wadsworth accused the state of endangering prisoners’ lives by adopting an unsafe mental health policy.

That protocol, says Wadsworth’s suit, tied into an inmate’s suicide in 2014.

After trying to draw attention to what he saw as poor policy-making, Wadsworth began to face harassment from prison staff and supervisors. He claims that he underwent ‘years of professional retaliation after warning his supervisors that a plan to temporarily restrict the number of San Quentin’s acute crisis beds would endanger inmates and contradict provisions of a court agreement that governments mental health services.’

In March of 2014, Wadsworth suggested that San Quentin set aside at least six mental health crisis beds for inmates. He said the beds the prison had were almost always in use, so taking some away might endanger inmates experiencing mental health crises.

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Photo by SHTTEFAN on Unsplash

“We will need to dedicate beds for the acutely mentally ill and that, without this dedication, we will have knowingly put ourselves into a clinically irresponsible position that will invite even more firestorm,” Wadsworth wrote in an email to corrections leaders. “But more importantly, it would set the stage for unacceptable patient care of the acutely mentally ill. By definition, these needs are more acute, more unpredictable, and their consequences are more dangerous.”

Wadsworth’s suit says that, shortly after the email was sent, corrections officials responded to its charges by demoting the psychiatrist and warning him that he may be reassigned to a prison in the “middle of the f*cking desert.”

Two months later, an inmate in psychiatric overflow committed suicide using an exposed electrical cable. In July, another inmate in the same kind of cell attempted suicide via the same method.

Wadsworth said the suicide and attempted suicide could have been prevented if the inmates had been properly housed.

The lawsuit, says the Bee, concluded earlier in the year when Wadsworth accepted a transfer from San Quentin to California’s Folsom State Prison facility. The transfer was part of the settlement, reached between the state and Wadsworth, who represented himself in court.

Wadsworth’s award could have been even larger, if it hadn’t been for a falling out with his last attorney. The Bee says that, at one point, the state corrections department had offered a $2.9 million settlement.

But whatever disagreement Wadsworth had with his lawyer led to the smaller sum being accepted in its place.


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