Disability Rights California report finds the Sonoma County Jail neglects prisoners with disabilities

Treatment of prisoners in mental health housing found to be inadequate and isolating
Press Release

(Sacramento, CA – May 16, 2016) Disability Rights California (DRC) today released a report (DRC Report and Sonoma County Response) accusing the Sonoma County Jail of neglecting prisoners with disabilities. According to the findings, there are two types of neglect; improper and inadequate mental health treatment for prisoners with mental health disabilities and excessive isolation.

“We found some of the worst conditions in the jail’s mental health unit,” said DRC attorney Anne Hadreas. “We saw patients with significant mental health needs being warehoused in an environment that was completely unsuited to treat them appropriately.”

DRC also found that the jail held many prisoners in their cells for more than 23 hours a day, a situation that is considered “extreme isolation” and not unlike solitary confinement. Even more disturbing, prisoners with mental health disabilities were also isolated – a practice the US Department of Justice and other experts say exacerbates mental health problems.

DRC’s report is based on a 2015 inspection of the jail. The organization has the authority under state and federal law to investigate any facility in California in which people with disabilities are housed or detained. DRC partnered with the Prison Law Office, a nonprofit public interest law firm, to help with the investigations.

The Sonoma County Sheriff has agreed to work with DRC and has begun to improve its policies.  Over the next two years, DRC will monitor conditions in the jail as the county moves forward on construction of Santa Rosa’s new Behavioral Health Unit (BHU), for which it recently received a grant. The BHU will have 72 beds for prisoners with serious mental health disabilities and those found incompetent to stand trial.

This is one of six reports DRC is issuing about conditions in California jails and juvenile facilities. DRC has already released reports on the conditions at Sacramento and Santa Barbara County Jails, as well San Diego and San Francisco juvenile detention facilities. A report about conditions in the San Diego Jail will be released soon.

For more information about Disability Rights California, check out this website and Facebook and Twitter for additional developments.