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California prisons to change pepper spray rules

SACRAMENTO — California prison officials said Wednesday that they will change the rules for using pepper spray on mentally ill inmates, as a federal judge considers whether current practices violate inmates' civil rights.

The corrections department will limit how much pepper spray can be used and how quickly, said spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman. The rules are still being written and would not apply to emergency situations.

The state's announcement comes as U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ordered corrections officials to publicly release videos that show prison guards pumping pepper spray into the cells of mentally disturbed inmates, some of whom begin shrieking or yelling for help.

The videos were shown during a hearing over the use of force against mentally ill inmates. The state's own expert said in court documents that guards routinely use canisters of pepper spray the size of a fire extinguisher on unarmed inmates when a much smaller quantity could be used.

"Obviously, it's our goal to use a minimal amount of force. Having it spelled out may help these situations stay more in control," Hoffman said.


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