Santa Rita Jail Population Increased by One Hundred as CDCR Transfers Are Halted; Questions Arise Regarding Mental Health Care for Incarcerated

By Linh Nguyen


This week at Santa Rita Jail, while the jail population increased to its highest population since April, ASCO reported that there were no active cases of COVID-19 among the jail population. Three new active cases emerged three days after ASCO made this announcement. Three housing units went under quarantine this week and are scheduled for release two weeks after they began.

Jail News

This week, Fox KTVU news reported of a father who blames Santa Rita Jail guards for his 25 year old son’s drug overdose while in custody. 

Scott Andrews filed a claim alleging wrongful death and gross negligence for his son Jonah Andrews’ death on Feb. 26, 2020. The official cause of death was “acute fluoxetine toxicity,” and the Alameda County Coroner ruled his death an accident.

Jonah Andrews was prescribed generic Prozac and Zyprexa drugs for his depression. The coroner said those were the only drugs in Andrews when he died. He also suffered from schizophrenia. 

The morning he died, other incarcerated people reported that Andrews was consuming an unusually excessive amount of water and vomiting. He was also left unattended for over an hour in his cell in the jail’s mental health unit, despite the fact that guards were to check each person every half hour. 

When deputies arrived, they found Andrews turning blue, but it was too late and he was pronounced dead shortly after.

In 2018, Kara Janssen, a prison rights attorney, sued the Alameda County Sheriff, alleging that the mental health care of incarcerated people at Santa Rita Jail is inadequate.

These incidents suggest that ACSO has exhibited a blatant disregard for incarcerated people’s mental health needs. In addition, there is an undeniable record exposing the lack of proper medical treatment available for those in need. In August, the Davis Vanguard highlighted four testimonies from SRJ that described the lack of cleaning supplies and unlivable conditions during COVID-19.

Four Testimonies From Inside Santa Rita Jail Recount Horrible Conditions During COVID-19 – Rejected Requests for Testing, No Masks Or Cleaning Supplies, Solitary-Confinement Style Quarantines

The events highlighted raise questions and concerns regarding the Sheriff’s handling of COVID-19 in the facility, including the mental health resources available for those in quarantine.

Housing Report

This week, three new housing units went under quarantine. On Monday Sep. 14, HU 3D went under quarantine due to patients presenting with COVID-19 symptoms. The quarantine is expected to be released on Sep. 28. It was also on Monday that ASCO reported zero active COVID-19 cases in the incarcerated population.

On Thursday Sep. 17, HU 3C began quarantine “out of an abundance of caution for possible exposure.” HU 3C is expected to be released on Oct. 2. 

On Saturday Sep. 19, HU 4F began quarantine due to an incarcerated person presenting with symptoms. HU 4F is scheduled for release on Oct. 3 unless the COVID-19 test results are negative for the index case. This housing unit was last quarantined on July 20. 

HU 3E, 3F and 8B remain under quarantine indefinitely for incarcerated people with known exposure to COVID-19. These units have been under quarantine since July 31.

Testing Report

This week, 141 new tests were completed with 16 tests pending results for next week. In total, 3716 tests have been completed for the incarcerated population. 

On Sep. 14, the first day ASCO reported that there were zero confirmed active cases of COVID-19 in Santa Rita Jail, no tests were completed, despite the fact that HU 3D went under quarantine that day as well. 

On Sep. 14, 15 and 16, ASCO reported that there were no confirmed active cases of COVID-19 among the incarcerated population. On Sep. 17, they reported three active cases. In total, there have been 247 confirmed cases in Santa Rita Jail among the incarcerated population.

Wellpath representative Jenn Diaz stated that tests are returned within 24-48 hours. Furthermore, only confirmatory testing is being done at this point.

There may be more active cases in the jail than what ACSO reports. These cases may be undetected because (a). individuals are asymptomatic or (b). individuals refuse testing to avoid isolation and quarantine if tested positive. 

Testing would need to be more widespread to confirm the true number of infected individuals in the jail so that they can be separated from those more susceptible to the virus. Furthermore, to encourage testing, quarantine protocols must also change so that individuals do not fear isolation in quarantine, as incarcerated narratives shared.

Population Report

On Monday Sep. 14, the Santa Rita Jail population reached its highest population count since the pandemic, at 1991 incarcerated people. This is the highest reported population since Apr. 8, when the population was at 1983 people. At this time, the jail population is 75 percent of the population on Mar. 1, 2020, when the population was 2597. 

Back on Apr. 25, 2020, when the jail population was at its lowest recorded number during the pandemic (1726 incarcerated people), the jail population then was 66 percent of the population on Mar. 1, 2020. This trend shows a 9 percent hike in population in six critical months, despite the still prevalent threat of the virus.

Since Monday, the net population decreased by 69 people and is now at 1922 incarcerated people. 

Commander Sanchez also stated that the number of bookings is increasing due to the fact that they are “holding onto large numbers of people meant to go to state prison.” The CDCR does not allow transfers between correctional facilities at this time. There are now 104 incarcerated people at Santa Rita Jail awaiting transfer to a state prison.

Staff Report

On Sep 2, ACSO made a correction to prior reports that stated that there have been 54 total staff COVID-19 cases. There had actually been 53 total staff COVID-19 cases.

Prior updates incorrectly counted the number of staff/contractor cases as 54. The total number of cases should remain as 53, last reported August 30. 4 staff/contractor personnel are current positive cases, with 49 staff/contractors having recovered,” the correction noted.

During a conference call on Sep. 18, Captain Dan Brodie explained that there were privacy issues between Wellpath and the Sheriff’s office that led to that error. Brodie said they had a problem getting the accurate number for their contractor.

There is currently one confirmed COVID-19 case among jail staff. Staff members who test positive may not return to work until they are cleared per CDC guidelines.

Testing among the staff is voluntary and staff members also have the opportunity to self-quarantine if they are showing symptoms of illness or suspect they have come in contact with the virus.

About The Author

The Covid In-Custody Project partners with the Davis Vanguard to report on the pandemic's impact on California's county jails and state prisons. See for more information.

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