Feds say California jail violates rights of mentally ill

April 23, 2021 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Alameda County in Northern California violated civil rights by failing to provide proper mental health services, especially in a jail where 19 people have committed suicide since 2014, according to federal report released Thursday.

The U.S. Department of Justice took aim at conditions for people with serious mental health issues, specifically in the Santa Rita Jail, where a woman killed herself April 2. It was the second suicide at the jail this year.

The federal report said there was “reasonable cause” to believe that conditions at the jail in Dublin violated the U.S. Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The report said the county failed to provide services to people with mental health disabilities, including those at risk of suicide, too often puts them in isolation, and unnecessarily ships them off to mental hospitals or other restrictive housing.

“On any given day in Alameda County, hundreds of people are institutionalized for lengthy stays at one of several large, locked psychiatric facilities” or at John George Psychiatric Hospital, said a Department of Justice statement.

People with mental health disabilities “find themselves unnecessarily cycling in and out of psychiatric institutions and jails because they lack access to proven services that would allow them to recover and participate in community life,” Pamela S. Karlan of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in the statement.

Sgt. Ray Kelly, a spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department that operates the jails, said the department already was working on dealing with issues mentioned in the report and in an ongoing 2018 federal lawsuit that made similar allegations.

A federal judge is overseeing the progress, he said.

The Santa Rita Jail has about 2,200 inmates, making it one of the largest jails or prisons in the nation.

Kelly estimated that close to half of the inmates at the jail have mental health issues, many of them serious.

“At the end of the day, this boils down to millions and millions of dollars in staffing ... in clinicians and facilities,” he said. “We need a proper criminal justice mental health facility that’s connected to the (overall) mental health system. We’re working on all of that.”


This story has been corrected to state that 19 deaths at the Santa Rita Jail since 2014 have been ruled suicides.