Six videotapes recorded at a state prison in Corcoran, Calif. show prison guards using pepper spray on mentally ill prisoners in order to force them to take medication or to move them to another cell.
The disturbing videos were released by a federal court on Thursday.
Lawyers representing about 30,000 mentally ill prisoners in the state are suing to outlaw the use of pepper spray against mentally ill inmates.
In one video (below), a naked prisoner is sprayed five times with pepper spray before being slammed to the cement floor by several guards, reports the Los Angeles Times.
"When we order involuntary medications, the inmate is told they will receive medications whether they like it or not," prison psychiatrist Dr. Ernest Wagner testified in court.
Dr. Wagner said the medication was ordered by the court because the man was suicidal. He claimed that without the medication the prisoner "would have died."
However, the mentally ill man's prison sentence was extended by three months as punishment because he refused orders by the prison guards, whom he may not have understood.
The logic used by the State of California is circular: California prisons pepper spray mentally ill prisoners to give them medication to prevent them from being suicidal and then add on more prison time because the mentally ill prisoner disobeyed and had to be pepper sprayed.
Jeffrey Bornstein, an attorney representing the mentally ill prisoners, stated in court, "The mentally ill are being punished for their mental illness."
In a statement, the California Corrections Department claims that mentally ill prisoners are forced out of their jail cells to keep them "from harming themselves or others and to ensure that they are placed in a more appropriate mental health setting."
"What you don't see on these videos is the hours of discussions that take place between the inmate and clinical staff before a cell extraction is ordered and the video camera starts rolling," adds the California Corrections Department.
According to The Huffington Post, the number of mentally ill people in jail has skyrocketed:
A 2006 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that over half of all jail and prison inmates have mental health issues; an estimated 1.25 million suffered from mental illness, over four times the number in 1998.
Research suggests that people with mental illness are overrepresented in the criminal justice system by rates of two to four times the normal population. The severity of these illnesses vary, but advocates say that one factor remains steady: with proper treatment, many of these incarcerations could have been avoided.
A report by the Treatment Advocacy Center even found that there are more people with severe mental illness in prisons and jails than in hospitals.
WARNING: GRAPHIC, DISTURBING VIDEO