Sacramento County Supes Surprisingly Postpone Vote on Initial $10 Million Jail Addition, Set Public Workshop

By Lisbeth Martinez and Jose Medina

SACRAMENTO – The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors last week rejected staff reports and warnings—following dozens of call-in comments from constituents—and decided to postpone a decision to grant a $10 million opening design plan to build a Correctional Health and Mental Health Services Facility.

The board made the decision to postpone despite warnings from staff that the board had to do something to abide by the Mays v. Sacramento ruling in 2018 when prisoners in the County of Sacramento jail system, with the help of Disability Rights California, filed a lawsuit against the County of Sacramento.

After a long back and forth between the Board of Supervisors, it was unanimously decided to postpone a controversial vote on the jail expansion, and instead approve a public workshop on Feb. 24 for the design build project because, as Supervisor Phil Serna put it, “to be blunt, we (supervisors) are the ones that have to go face to face (with the voters). We’re between a rock and a hard place here (but) I want a workshop to get the public involved.

“There’s been questions about the budget of the Sheriff. My concept of the workshop is globally cover these outstanding issues affecting this decision. I get it there’s the building part, but there is so much more about it that we need to exhaust…the five of us has to confront our constituents and then get them the narrative that we exhausted every alternative at least that’s how I feel,” Serna added.”

Supervisor Don Nottoli, after several other supervisors early on voiced support for the $10 million design plan, started the dissent by simply saying he wouldn’t vote for it. Period.

“At best what’s before us is immature. The aspects of something that we’ve been talking about affect the budget to some degree. I want to see some of the work product and I want to do it in a public context with our board in a workshop fashion and have an opportunity as it relates to the alternatives of 911. I don’t intend to support this today,” he said.

Supervisor Patrick Kennedy added, “If we’re not prepared for a workshop and provide answers for a workshop then I’m even less comfortable going forward with this today.”

According to the “Mays” lawsuit, there were many issues inside Sacramento County prisons, including “understaffing, prolonged and harmful isolation, lack of minimally adequate mental health care, lack of minimally adequate medical care, and discrimination on the basis of disability.”

Later in December 2019, the Mays consent decree requires the county to “expand its mental health programs and services, provide constitutionally-adequate medical care, provide additional safeguards to reduce suicides by people in custody, identify people with disabilities and ensure that they receive appropriate accommodations, and expand mental health input into the jail’s disciplinary and use of force practices.”

It has been over a year since this decree was concluded, yet the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors has not received any report on efforts being made in order to meet its requirements.

According to an advocate with Decarcerate Sacramento, Niki Jones, Sacramento County continues to ignore the fact that the behavior of police enforcement inside prisons is included within Mays consent decree.

Jones was able to experience the Main Jail during the mental health crisis, she said. Many advocates, including Jones, claim that “space is not the problem, it’s the management.” Jones shares that it was not the lack of space within buildings that made her experience in Sacramento County’s jail system hard, but rather the sheriffs within it.

People who have been imprisoned in Sacramento’s Main Jail shared that they have seen little to any progress being made in concerns of the Mays consent decree. For instance, Pamela Emanual shares that while being imprisoned in the Main Jail for three years, she was treated with cruelty.

She said she was under isolation repeatedly, describing it as being locked down “like an animal.” Even after the consent decree was finalized in Dec. 2019, Emanual claims that the treatment she received prior had not stopped.

According to attorney Tifanei Ressl-Moyer, Sacramento County has not tried looking into potential options in order to meet the consent decree requirements. For instance, the county has failed to seek the options of separating handicapped prisoners, as well as prisoners with mental illness, from the able-bodied.

On the contrary, the only option they have looked into in order to meet this decree is by building a new jail facility, charged Ressl-Moyer.

A new prison facility will not resolve the issue that is deeply implemented within the jail system concerning police abuse of power, said Decarcerate Sacramento.

And Dr. Christina Bourne, who has worked inside Sacramento’s Main Jail, believes that the new jail will not solve the causes of the consent decree or the suffering of those incarcerated within prisons.

Other prison reform advocates claim that they would rather have those funds used for “alternatives to police response” and “treatment that [do] not punish people for needing help.”

Earlier, one caller urged the board to “to not go ahead and not put money into this construction. I want to say what it means to be in community, Mental Health First and the Black Child Legacy Program and the Program I came from like Decarcerate Sacramento are what people with mental health crisis need.”

Dr. Philip Strummers told the supervisors that their votes would be wasted on the “jail expansion. The best use of these dollars should go to mental health. Our Emergency facilities are bursting at the seams. Jailing more people is not a solution. Do not build a bigger jail, decrease the jail population and increase investment to housing and better care.”

Black Lives Matter Sacramento co-founder and educator Sonya Lewis criticized the board.

“It’s infuriating to see you elected officials to rub your eyes and hold up your head looking disconnected when people are telling you their concerns about mental health issues. It would be responsible of you to invest in the people where they are hurting the most and that is housing and mental health. Every time we are talking about expanding therapeutic jails you are mindf***ing the community into thinking you are doing us a favor,” Lewis said.

Another commenter said, “A newer, nicer jail is not going to address racism. We must acknowledge that. The technology of a cage will inhibit any type of therapeutic justice. Your priorities are killing people.”

“How much money are you all going to waste on a monumental sad looking place like Sac County Jail? Many people have been advocating for alternatives to 911. You got the money right here that you can put towards a viable program for emergency mental health crisis and you can do it today right here right now,” said another caller.

And yet another noted, “General funds are really limited and (the jail) will take away funds from housing and mental health care. As a Christian I implore you that we invest towards services aimed to aid people not hurt them.”

“I’m concerned about the inauthenticity of this when we are trying to build towards alternatives to calling 911 yet expanding jail facilities. We have to be serious about getting people in homes and out of jail facilities,” said community organizer Ryan McClinton.

“It feels like every few months I have to call you to stop dumping money into incarcerating people. We need prevention services and reduce our incarcerated populations. How would you help people harming themselves? Would you put them in a cage or direct them towards resources?” added another caller.

Leslie Knapper called in to say, “The jail is no place for mental health issues, stop criminalizing mental health,” while another commenter said, “The same people continue to call in about issues and concerns of an antiquated system that does not give agency to and space to actually collaborate at tables that we know have been proven. We live in a system of White Supremacy and its entitlement are wide spread in relationship to white dominance.”

And another mentioned, “Twenty-three people tried to kill themselves in our jails just this year and law enforcement has done absolutely nothing about it. After hearing hours of experts who have been in jail for mental health crisis. What will go unfunded as a result?”

Judy Haimen commented, “I find it truly incomprehensible that any of our elected officials do not see this system has to fundamentally change to respect the lives of all Sacramento residents, while another called stated, ”The shame these people feel at the jail facilities adds more to their trauma. Expanding jail facilities will only make their mental health worse not better.”

“How exactly would building a bigger facility reduce recidivism? If you care about good governance vote no on this contract. The Sheriff’s department has killed two people in the past week, life will never be considered precious inside these jails,” noted another caller.

Kennedy added, “Some of the callers that called in I consider friends and see the point I do. I wish we could take all of this money and put it towards mental health services. Do I like to put more money towards institutionalizing people? No, but the fact is as long as we are a society, we are going to continue to institutionalize people. Can we and should we find ways to keep them out of the criminal justice system and put them in areas that’s more appropriate and give them the care that’s more appropriate, absolutely.

“But in the meantime the facility does need investment and a lot of people are going to disagree with that but it’s true. It is not ADA compliant, it is not HIPPA compliant which means we are breaking the law, we are lucky that it has taken this long for us to be called out on this. Frankly we can put all the money in the world towards mental health diversion programs and we’re still going to have inmates who require mental health services, that is not going to go away.

“What there is now is inhumane, it is not the appropriate level of care and so those inmates deserve it as human beings. We do need to move forward with the development of a correctional health facility at that location. I would like to look at our proposed 911 diversion program and see if diverting some money out of the consent decree and dedicating it towards that. I still think that we could also look at diverting some of the money from the Sheriff’s to the 911 diversion program.”

Serna brought some of the discussion back to the sheriff. “I do think that the comments were made in particular of practices and behavior by the sheriff’s department how they treat inmates especially those with disabilities or mental health challenges I think that’s a responsible thing for us to continue to explore in terms of how best to ensure that individuals and constituents with those particular needs who have been incarcerated have the best chance for a positive outcome.

“I gotta believe that those inmates who suffer mental health could be perhaps considered for home detention with ankle monitors and still have access to mental health treatment outside of the confines of a jail annex facility. That’s something I’m eager to explore.”

Lisbeth Martinez is a third year at UC Davis, double majoring in Communication and Political Science. She currently lives in Shafter, California.

Jose graduated from UC Davis with a BA in Political Science and has interned for the California State Legislature. He is from Rocklin, CA.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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