Settlement Reached in Sacramento County Regarding Jail Class Action

Press Release

(Sacramento, CA - June 20, 2019) Today, on behalf of the nearly 4,000 people incarcerated in Sacramento County’s jails, Disability Rights California, Prison Law Office, and Cooley LLP reached a proposed settlement with the County to address the dangerous and unconstitutional conditions of the County’s jails. The settlement of this class action lawsuit, Mays v. County of Sacramento, E.D. Cal. No. 2:18-cv-02081-TLN-KJN (PC), which is subject to court approval, is a result of extensive negotiations.

“We have spent over four years investigating and litigating over Sacramento County’s persistent failure to meet the basic human needs of people in their jails,” said Tifanei Ressl-Moyer, Staff Attorney with Disability Rights California. “Our clients have done a courageous job in fighting for their constitutional rights.”

The lawsuit alleged that Sacramento County has failed to provide constitutionally required mental health and medical care to people in the jail, has imposed harsh and extreme solitary confinement conditions that disproportionately affect people with mental illness, and has discriminated against people with disabilities.

One plaintiff named in the lawsuit, Lorenzo Mays, spent nearly eight years in solitary confinement—23 hours or more in a small cell every day. He experienced auditory hallucinations, deepened depression, severe anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and even a Vitamin D deficiency for lack of exposure to sunlight. Another plaintiff, Leertese Beirge, spent seven months in solitary confinement while he was waiting to receive treatment for serious mental illness in a state hospital. These men, like so many other people held in the jail, did not receive the mental health treatment they needed.

“We believe the settlement, if approved, will result in dramatic improvements and is in the best interest of our clients. It calls for the County to end the dangerous use of ‘Total Separation’ for people in jail and to significantly reduce the use of solitary confinement. The settlement also requires the county to expand program activities and take additional measures to prevent suicide,” stated Jessica Valenzuela Santamaria, a partner at Cooley.

“We appreciate the cooperation of the Sheriff’s Department in negotiating a detailed settlement agreement, which calls for a substantial expansion in mental health programming and services for people incarcerated in Sacramento County jails. Under the agreement, we will monitor the implementation of these reforms to ensure that the County provides adequate mental health and medical care to the people it incarcerates,” said Margot Mendelson, staff attorney at the Prison Law Office.

The proposed consent decree will also commit the County to consider measures to reduce the jail population and to “prevent the unnecessary incarceration of individuals with serious mental illness.” Under the settlement agreement, the County has agreed that a “reduction in the jail population is a cost-effective means to achieve constitutional and statutory standards.”

“Ultimately, the County must reduce the jail population in order to end the conditions that lead to needless deterioration of the mental and physical health of people in the jail,” said Ressl-Moyer. “The County will fail to meet the needs of people in Sacramento if it simply pours money into the jail. It must invest in community services and programs designed to prevent recidivism and reduce the need to incarcerate people who are homeless or have serious mental illness.”

A copy of the proposed Consent Decree is available at: https://www.disabilityrightsca.org/cases/mays-v-county-of-sacramento.