Disability Rights California report finds prisoners in the Santa Barbara Jail held in solitary, denied mental health care

Sheriff agrees to limited reforms - but more are needed
Press Release

Sacramento, February 23, 2016 - Disability Rights California (DRC) today released a report criticizing the Santa Barbara County Jail for its treatment of prisoners with disabilities. According to the report ( Report on Inspection of the Santa Barbara County Jail ), prisoners are denied basic mental health care, held in solitary confinement and housed in conditions that violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The report describes how prisoners with mental illness are held in isolation for more than 20 hours per day and offered only brief cell-front visits from a counselor. Suicidal prisoners are routinely held for days at a time in “safety cells,” small windowless rooms the size of a closet, with no bed, toilet or source of water. “Other jails hold suicidal prisoners in safety cells for only a few hours at a time,” said DRC attorney Melinda Bird. “The impact on prisoners can be devastating, and only contributes to their distress.”

DRC’s report is based on an inspection visit in 2015, in which DRC and the Prison Law Office toured the jail, interviewed prisoners and later reviewed their medical records. DRC has authority under state and federal law to investigate any facility in California in which people with disabilities are housed or detained.

An attorney from the Prison Law Office, Corene Kendrik, noted that her office is familiar with Corizon Health, the for-profit corporation that provides mental and physical health care in the jail. “The report details the inadequacies in Corizon’s mental health services, which subject prisoners to further abuse, neglect and isolation.”

DRC’s report also describes problems with the jail’s treatment of prisoners with physical disabilities, including epilepsy, who were denied accommodations required by the ADA. The main jail is old and inaccessible, which contributes to problems with ADA compliance.

Significantly, the sheriff has agreed to appoint a new ADA coordinator, as well as consider changes to other policies identified in the report. “We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the sheriff and the county board of supervisors to improve conditions for all prisoners with mental and physical disabilities,” said DRC attorney Richard Diaz.

This is the second of six reports DRC is issuing about mental health care in California jails. The nonprofit advocacy organization released a report critical of conditions in the Sacramento County Jail last fall. Reports resulting from similar investigations of two additional jails and two juvenile hall facilities will be issued over the next several months.

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