The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) Concludes that Alameda County, California, Violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the U.S. Constitution

Putting individuals with mental health disabilities at risk of needless psychiatric institutionalization or incarceration in jail
Press Release

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) Concludes that Alameda County, California, Violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the U.S. Constitution

Photo of a black man behind prison bars. He is gripping bars clearly in a state of depression.
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(Oakland, CA) On Thursday, April 22, 2021, after a thorough multi-year investigation, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a report finding that Alameda County is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in failing to provide mental health services in the most integrated setting, and that the County’s Santa Rita jail violates the U.S Constitution and the ADA.  The full report can be found here: https://www.justice.gov/crt/case-document/file/1388871/download and the press release can be found here: https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-finds-alameda-county-…

Key conclusions from DOJ include:

  1. Alameda County violates the ADA by failing to provide services to individuals with mental health disabilities in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs by unnecessarily institutionalizing them at John George Psychiatric Hospital and sub-acute facilities;
  2. Many individuals with mental health disabilities have encounters with the criminal justice system, driven in part by unmet mental health needs.
  3. The County’ s jail fails to provide constitutionally adequate mental health care to prisoners, including those at risk of suicide, and violates the ADA by denying prisoners with mental health disabilities access to programs and activities because of their disabilities.
  4. The jail experiences of prisoners with mental health disabilities place them at risk of repeated or unnecessarily lengthy psychiatric institutional stays after release.  

“This report shows that the Department of Justice recognizes the dire need for change in Alameda County.  The DOJ’s investigation highlights the direct link between the lack of community services in Alameda County, including mobile crisis services and housing, and costly cycling of people with psychiatric disabilities in and out of John George Psychiatric Hospital and Santa Rita jail,” said DRC Senior Attorney, Sarah Gregory.  “The County’s failures have a devasting impact on Alameda County residents, which are disproportionately felt by Black residents.”

In July 2020, Disability Rights California (DRC), along with Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, the Oakland-based law firm Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho, and the Law Office of Aaron J. Fischer, filed a lawsuit against Alameda County that identifies many of the same ADA violations found by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The DRC lawsuit challenges the unnecessary and illegal segregation of people with mental health disabilities -- especially Black people with disabilities -- in psychiatric institutions, often by way of jail or homelessness, and the failure to ensure people with disabilities are provided the community-based services they need.  The suit calls for increasing the availability of critical community-based services, including mobile crisis services -- with mental health providers and peers as first responders, intensive community-based Assertive Treatment Services, and more supported housing.  The lawsuit also demands that Alameda County improve its engagement and outreach efforts and ensure that individuals are linked to needed community services immediately upon discharge from psychiatric emergencies or jail. A copy of the federal lawsuit and information about the case are available at:  https://www.disabilityrightsca.org/cases/drc-lawsuit-against-alameda-co….

Media Contacts

Melody Pomraning
Communications Director
Disability Rights California
(916) 504-5938
Melody.Pomraning@disabilityrightsca.org

 

 

Disability Rights California (DRC) is the agency designated under federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of Californians with disabilities. The mission of DRC is to defend, advance, and strengthen the rights and opportunities of people with disabilities. For more information visit: https://www.disabilityrightsca.org.