By Crescenzo Vellucci
The Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief
SACRAMENTO, CA – Sacramento County has less than a month to immediately treat or transfer dozens of people in county jails with “acute or intensive mental health care” issues to facilities outside of the jail for treatment, according to a letter by civil rights lawyers to the county dated Aug. 25.
The county’s “failure” to address the “longstanding problem” regarding mental health care at the jails is “dangerous and inhumane,” charged the letter signed by the Prison Law Office, Law Office of Aaron J. Fischer and Disability Rights California.
The attorneys gave the county 30 days from Aug. 25 to “provide” needed care or “transfer people who require acute or intensive mental health care to community health care settings outside the jail facilities to receive the care they need.”
If the County of Sacramento fails to do that, the groups said they may file a federal court action, charging “the County has failed for years to provide timely access to acute mental health care of patients in the Sacramento County Jails. The system is plagued by chronic delays in access to care, particularly for people experiencing an acute psychiatric crisis.”
“This comes three years after the Mays v. Sacramento County class-action lawsuit was settled in federal court,” said Decarcerate Sacramento in a prepared statement obtained by The Vanguard, adding “these conditions are in direct violation of the Mays Consent Decree, which requires the County to provide timely access to inpatient mental health care to patients in the jails.”
Decarcerate Sacramento explained, “Mays class counsel emphasized that there continues to be a lengthy waitlist for incarcerated people who meet the criteria for acute and intensive outpatient mental health treatment…there are approximately 50 people in the jails right now who require care that the jail cannot provide and recommended the County reopen the Sacramento Mental Health Treatment Center or contract with another health care facility to provide the acute-level treatment needed.”
Decarcerate and others said they welcome the letter’s demands, and said “we have called for Sacramento County to expand mental health diversion programs for many years.”
“We have been urging the county to re-open the 50 acute mental health beds in the County’s Mental Health Treatment Center that were closed due to budget cuts in 2008, but the county has refused to do so.” said Jael Barnes, Pretrial Justice Organizer with Decarcerate Sacramento.
Barnes added, “Quickly re-opening these beds for mental health diversion from the jails would not only help people get access to the treatment they need, which would prevent further harm in our community, but would also prevent the county from facing serious legal consequences.”
Decarcerate Sacramento again criticized the planned billion dollar expansion of the downtown jail because, it declares, the “county has not explored all alternatives; that there are more efficient ways to meet the Mays consent decree that will be more effective at avoiding further legal consequences.”
“The county can no longer justify its $1 billion jail expansion on the basis of facing legal action if they don’t move forward with construction,” said Courtney Hanson, an organizer with Decarcerate Sacramento, adding, “The county is facing legal action right now, if they do not get people out of that jail and into community care as soon as possible.”
The Aug. 25 letter insists “Sacramento County has been and remains in direct violation of the Mays Consent Decree, which requires the County to provide timely access to inpatient mental health care to patients in the jails,” which requires in-patient mental health care with 24 hours.
Specifically, the letter notes, in an upcoming report, “the Mays court-appointed expert in suicide prevention found that none of the patients identified as needing inpatient psychiatric care are placed in appropriate acute mental health care beds within 24 hours of identification.”
“As the County is aware, the acute mental health care unit in the Main Jail (the ‘2P’ unit) is woefully inadequate to meet the needs of the people incarcerated in the jails. It lacks space for clinically appropriate group therapy or confidential individual treatment and was described by the court-appointed mental health expert as more reflective of a solitary confinement unit than an inpatient treatment unit,” the letter scolded.
The letter also said the county’s original plan to expand “expand access to acute mental health care by renovating the Main Jail to relocate and expand the acute mental health care unit” was first much-delayed and then junked.
The county has “presented no plan for addressing the dangerously inadequate mental health resources in the jail (incarcerated) continue to experience preventable and, in many cases, permanent harm due to the County’s failure to provide adequate mental health care. The County’s failure to address this longstanding problem is dangerous and inhumane,” and violates court agreements, said the lawyers in their letter.
The letter notes the agreement signed off by the county states, “Until adequate psychiatric inpatient treatment can be provided in the jail, it is incumbent upon the Defendants to seek out psychiatric treatment in the community, whether through County Mental Health or private providers, where patients can be placed. Many of the patient population requiring acute care cycle between the community and jail placement. These patients are no greater a threat, in general, than psychiatric patients placed in many community facilities.”