by Derek Gilna
The parties to a May 2015 class-action settlement between prisoners at the Monterey County jail in California, county officials and the jail’s medical provider – which was supposed to address issues of poor medical and mental healthcare, inadequate staffing, accommodations for disabled prisoners and serious safety problems – were back in court in September 2017 to monitor compliance with the settlement agreement.
California Forensics Medical Group (CFMG), the county’s current medical and mental healthcare provider, was criticized by the judge monitoring the settlement over the quality of the company’s mental health treatment for prisoners.
The terms of the 2015 settlement included a payment of $4.8 million in attorney fees and costs, and a requirement that the county employ a full-time psychiatrist and have another on call at all times in an effort to reduce the increasing number of prisoner suicides at the jail. [See: PLN, April 2016, p.18]. However, CFMG admitted that it had only recently hired an on-site mental health professional due to difficultly in filling the position.
U.S. District Court Judge Beth L. Freeman was unsympathetic. “Maybe you need to offer a better salary,” she said, and indicated she was less than enthusiastic about the use of telepsychiatry – conducting mental health screenings by video rather than in-person – as suggested by CFMG. “To just allow telepsychiatry anytime, I am not in favor of that,” Freeman added.
The Monterey County jail and CFMG have been named as defendants in numerous lawsuits, and in April 2016 they paid a $1.1 million settlement stemming from the suicide of prisoner Joshua Claypole, who hanged himself with a bed sheet after he was denied mental health medication when he was admitted to the jail.
Many corrections officials acknowledge that prisoners in their facilities have serious mental health issues, and the U.S. Department of Justice has estimated that at least a third of prisoners nationwide suffer from such problems. According to an August 2017 Monterey County civil grand jury report, 45 percent of the county’s prisoners have mental health issues, leading the jury members to say the jail served as a “de facto mental health facility.”
Sheriff Steve Bernal challenged that finding, saying the jail was “not designed, staffed, or equipped to function as a mental health facility, in the way we believe the Grand Jury to mean.”
“Under this generalization of our jail being a ‘de facto mental health facility,’ that would be for every prison, every jail across the state because there’s a significant percentage of inmates who have mental health needs so, again to put it into context, it’s not anything unique to our county, it’s something seen across the board within our inmate population at all levels,” added County Supervisor Luis Alejo.
On November 1, 2017, Judge Freeman granted in part and denied in part the plaintiffs’ motion to enforce the 2015 settlement agreement with respect to mental health staffing requirements and the use of telepsychiatry. The district court found that CFMG had complied with the staffing requirements by finally hiring a full-time psychiatrist, and directed the parties to finalize their tentative agreement as to issues regarding the use of telepsychiatry. The parties then entered into a stipulation regarding the standards for CFMG’s use of telepsychiatry at the jail on March 21, 2018, which included provisions related to informed consent, documentation of telepsychiatry sessions, patient confidentiality and technical requirements.
The prisoners at the Monterey County jail are represented in the litigation by the ACLU and the law firm of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld, LLP. The case remains pending. See: Hernandez v. County of Monterey, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 5:13-cv-02354-PSG.
Sources: www.montereyherald.com, www.courthousenews.com, www.thecalifornian.com
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Related legal case
Hernandez v. County of Monterey
|U.S.D.C. (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 5:13-cv-02354-PSG