The members of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors and plaintiffs in the class action litigation suit Mays vs. County of Sacramento, represented by Prison Law Office (PLO) and Disability Rights California (DRC), have reached an agreement on a consent decree regarding jail conditions.
Multiple counties throughout the state, including Santa Clara, Fresno and Riverside, have been targeted with similar lawsuits and challenges. Sacramento County has been working collaboratively for several years with Plaintiffs’ counsel to reach agreement on a plan to bring the jail up to current Constitutional standards.
By agreeing to settle the lawsuit, the County avoids significant litigation costs and the risk of potentially more challenging mandates being imposed by the court.
The consent decree addresses conditions of confinement at both the main jail and Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center and imposes new obligations on the County with regard to inmate medical care, mental health care, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance and out-of-cell time, among other issues.
“I’m pleased this consent decree achieves common ground between the parties,” said District 2 Sacramento County Supervisor and Board Chair Patrick Kennedy. “The County will provide improvements for inmates in custody that build upon the enhancements the County has already implemented in recent years.”
The actions agreed to by the County are driven by a number of factors. The County’s main jail was built before the passage of the ADA and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HPAA). Additionally, there have been a number of federal court decisions that have set new standards and imposed new requirements on county jails.
In addition, due in part to Correctional Realignment, in which large numbers of inmates were transferred from State prisons to county jails, the County jails’ population has also changed significantly. The populations shifted from a younger, relatively healthy, shorter-term inmate population to an older, more criminally sophisticated, longer-term population with more complex physical health conditions, behavioral health conditions, including higher rates of mental health and substance use disorders, and other health and behavior issues.
Like most counties in California and across the nation, Sacramento County has seen a long-term trend of an increase in the number and proportion of jail inmates with serious mental health issues. The jail psychiatric services caseload has doubled from 2004 to 2018.
Key points of the consent decree include:
- Segregation/Restrictive Housing – Inmates will be pre-screened for mental health concerns and housing, health care and management needs will be adjusted for those inmates; most inmates will receive more out-of-cell time.
- Americans with Disability Act (ADA) Compliance – Policies, procedures, training and accommodations will be put in place to ensure compliance with ADA requirements.
- Suicide Prevention – For inmates at risk of suicide, the County will ensure appropriate intake screening, staff training, suitable housing/environment and inmate observation.
- Disciplinary Measures for Inmates with Mental Health or Intellectual Disabilities – the County will make overall changes in staff training and use of force policies, as well as consult with mental health providers when considering discipline for inmates with cognitive disabilities or mental health issues.
- Mental Health Care – For inmates with mental illness, the County will ensure appropriate housing and settings for group and individual treatment, sufficient staffing to meet and maintain improved standards of care and staff training.
- Medical Care – The County will improve delivery of medical, dental and mental care through timely referrals, responses to requests for care and medication disbursement; chronic care treatment plans; appropriate clinic space for those services; and staff training.
“Through the process, the Sheriff’s Office and Correctional Health Services have made significant changes and improvements toward these common goals,” said Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones.
The County’s 2019-20 budget allocated $14 million towards increased staff, contracts and medical costs to improve conditions of confinement and inmate medical care. Approximate costs for designing and building an addition at the main jail to accommodate the specific needs of mentally ill inmates and making other needed improvements will be $16-18 million for programming and design. Construction costs could exceed $100 million. The County has included $8 million in the 2019-20 budget for design costs and will plan for $8-10 million in 2020-21.
Sacramento County began making changes in the jails even while negotiations were ongoing. In 2017-18, the County created a new 20-bed Mental Health Intensive Outpatient Pod (IOP) and conducted a review designed to find ways to reduce the jails’ population through use of evidence-based alternatives to incarceration. The County also added additional staff in the jail to free up deputies for more out-of-cell time and provided enhanced mental health services for inmates.