Alameda County Jail to Overhaul Approach Regarding Detainees’ Mental Health
Alameda County has struck a settlement that would require it to make major improvements to the Santa Rita Jail to better attend to detainees’ mental health and adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act, following a class action complaint filed in 2018.
Procedures Subject to Overhaul
The settlement still requires approval from U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins, who will hear the request this September. If authorized, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office will be expected to restructure its detainee intake and discharge system, improve manpower, and establish additional oversight structures.
Additionally, the Alameda County Santa Rita Jail Settlement placed the jail within court supervision, referred to as a consent decree, for a period of up to six years, with the possibility of an extension; if the sheriff’s office is found to be in violation following that time period.
If the settlement is accepted, modifications will be made at multiple levels, beginning with the time individuals are booked into the Santa Rita Jail, which houses approximately 2,000 detainees. Mental health exams are now required at intake, along with enhanced protocols for suicidal inmates and expedited access to mental health professionals.
The release procedures will also be altered, with new requirements for coordination with the detainee’s family and friends, community service providers, and housing providers; a staff-created as well as updated release plan for those who have been detained for more than 72 hours and is undergoing mental health treatment; and the provision of a 30-day supply of psychiatric medications upon release.
The sheriff’s office will phase out the usage of “safety cells,” develop new suicide restraint cells and reform the process by which it chooses who is placed in these spaces while considering a person’s mental health. Additionally, time restrictions will be enforced to ensure that each inmate has time outside their cells.
Moreover, within a year, a new therapeutic housing unit for Alameda County jail inmates with major mental health problems must be established to provide them with more time outside, access to educational and mental health programs, and to promote better coordination with the other county mental health providers, as well as to offer and provide them with more time outside.
Additionally, the settlement mandates confidential mental health care and improved procedures on the use of force and restraints.
The Alameda County jail must establish an inmate advisory council, an ombud, and a compliance coordinator for the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Any detainee with a psychiatric handicap who is admitted to the jail will meet with the ADA coordinator, who will provide advice and ensure that the detainee is treated in compliance with the rules. In addition, the number of mental health personnel and sheriff’s office employees will increase.
DOJ Investigates the Reform Settlement
While this enormous settlement is the result of a class action lawsuit, Alameda County is also under investigation by the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.
In April 2021, the DOJ issued a report declaring that Alameda County’s mental health care system violates the 8th as well as 14th Amendments to the Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
As detailed in its report, the DOJ concluded that Alameda County has a significantly higher rate of involuntary psychiatric emergency holds than other California counties and that it violates the ADA by imprisoning people with chronic mental illnesses, both of which are caused by a scarcity of available community resources. The DOJ mentions two instances in which the county’s intake system resulted in inmates dying from a lack of proper mental health care.
The DOJ has been monitoring the Alameda County Santa Rita Jail class action settlement negotiations and will almost certainly attempt to negotiate its own agreement with the county prior to launching a lawsuit.
Editor’s Note on Alameda County Santa Rita Jail Settlement:
This article is written to inform you of the class action settlement against Alameda County jail to overhaul its approach regarding mental health issues. Another ADA related class action was also filed against Tennessee government concerning the Shelby County’s schools no masks rule.
Case Name & No.: Ashok Babu, et al., v. County of Alameda, Case 4:18-cv-07677
Jurisdiction: United States District Court, Northern District of California
Allegations: Alameda County’s Santa Rita jail allegedly violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when attending to the detainees.
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