In California, prison inmates who have committed serious crimes and have been diagnosed with a major mental illness can be forced to serve their parole in a state hospital. At Atascadero State Hospital, shown above in this 1999 photo, there are more than 600 such patients. "As a group," says the hospital's director, "the mentally disordered offenders are the most aggressive." Reed Saxon/AP hide caption

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Metropolitan State Hospital employees and supporters gathered outside the hospital in Norwalk, Calif., this summer to protest repeated assaults at the hands of mental patients, and what they called dangerous working conditions. Nick Ut/AP hide caption

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Metropolitan State Hospital employees and supporters gather outside the gates of the hospital in Norwalk, Calif., earlier this month to protest repeated assaults at the hands of mental patients and what they call dangerous working conditions. Nick Ut/AP hide caption

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Republican state Sen. Sam Blakeslee, shown at a committee hearing earlier this year, says the Atascadero hospital has "an inherently dangerous population." He's proposed new laws designed to make the hospital safer, including a bill that would make it easier to medicate patients against their will. Rich Pedroncelli/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Rich Pedroncelli/AP

At a rally at Napa State Hospital in January, workers demand better safety measures for staff and patients. One worker carries a sign with a photo of Donna Gross, a hospital worker killed last year, allegedly by a patient. J.L. Sousa/ZUMAPRESS.com hide caption

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