Santa Rita Jail

REGIONAL — Attorneys who sued Alameda County to improve conditions for inmates at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin have reached a settlement that could bring mental health, suicide prevention and other reforms to the troubled institution.

If approved by a U.S. District Court judge, the “consent decree” would be implemented in the next two years and remain in effect for six years, attorneys with Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld (RBGG) said.

The consent decree would require Alameda County officials to improve the delivery of mental health care, expand out-of-cell time for inmates, and provide Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations for inmates with mental health disabilities.

It also has provisions for use-of-force, discharge planning, coordinating emergency mental health care with John George Psychiatric Hospital, and suicide prevention.

Jeffrey Bornstein, a partner at RBGG, said the consent decree resulted from lawyers from Rosen Bien working closely with lawyers representing the Sheriff and the county.

“The decree requires fundamental and transformative changes at the jail,” Bornstein said in a statement. “The hope is that the cooperative foundation we have built with the county’s lawyers will bring about the cultural change necessary to end the use of punitive measures, such as isolation and lack of out of cell time and to ensure that there are vigorous mental health care, educational and other treatment program opportunities throughout the jail.”

Filed in 2018 on behalf of inmates, the lawsuit alleged Santa Rita Jail required increased staff and mental health programs to address a high suicide rate.

“There has been no meaningful mental health care treatment in the jail for many years,” said RBGG attorney Kara Janssen. “The consent decree mandates comprehensive mental health services, including regular mental health rounds, electronic tracking of referrals, prompt delivery of medication, group therapy, treatment planning teams, creation of confidential spaces for services, and discharge planning including coordinating with community-based mental health services.”

U.S. District Court Judge Nathanael Cousins, who has overseen the lawsuit, is set to hear a preliminary motion to approve the consent decree on Sept. 22. If approved, Cousins would set a date for a hearing on final approval.

If approved, the settlement includes provisions that:

  • Require that jail inmates receive adequate mental care by increasing staffing, establishing levels of care, creating treatment plans, providing treatment, implementing an electronic system to track referrals, and requiring deputies to make daily mental health rounds to provide additional mental health support to those who need it;
  • Require 14- to 35-hours a week out-of-cell time for inmates, depending on their housing location, including at least 28 hours a week for people in general population;
  • Retire measures prevent suicide and self-harm in the jail;
  • Require programs and services for inmates with mental health disabilities.