by Scott Grammer
Sacramento County has two jails, which together house about 3,800 people at any one time. A July 2018 complaint filed in federal court by Lorenzo Mays, Ricky Richardson, Jennifer Bothun, Armani Lee, Leertese Beirge, Cody Garland, and the Prison Law Office and Disability Rights California, claims that the county “regularly subjects people in its custody—the majority of whom have not been convicted of any crime—to harsh, prolonged, and undue isolation.”
“Every day, Defendant locks up hundreds of people in solitary confinement in dark, cramped, filthy cells for 23 ½ hours or more per day,” says the complaint. “Defendant subjects people with serious mental illness to extreme isolation, with little or no mental health treatment. More than one-third of Sacramento County’s jail population has a mental illness, including dozens of people waiting for psychiatric inpatient placements in state hospitals. Yet Defendant fails to provide adequate mental health care, including basic measures to prevent suicide and self-harm.”
On September 14, 2019, the parties reached a preliminary agreement on a consent decree to bring the jail up to Constitutional standards. The court approved $2,100,000 in attorney fees for the plaintiffs as the prevailing parties and approved an annual cap of $250,000 in attorney fees for monitoring compliance with the consent decree. The settlement was sealed by the court on January 13, 2020. (See Mays v. County of Sacramento, U.S.D.C. E.D. Cal., Case No. 2:18-cv-02081 TLN KJN.)
The complaint described the jail’s consistent failure to provide medical care. Mays, one of the plaintiffs, spent almost eight years in solitary confinement while awaiting trial, over 23 hours a day. He suffered depression, hallucinations, suicidal thoughts and was diagnosed with a vitamin D deficiency due to lack of exposure to sunlight. Plaintiff Beirge was in solitary for seven months while waiting for mental health treatment.
Plaintiff Lee, who had a broken pelvis when he arrived at the jail, was not provided with a wheelchair. He was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and has a history of suicide attempts. The jail placed him in “disciplinary isolation” and he was not allowed to leave the cell for weeks nor even allowed to shower. Jail staff went as far as to cover his cell window to increase his isolation.
According to a fact sheet released by Disability Rights California, the agreement includes remedying the “illegal and dangerous conditions” in the jails, “including those related to the treatment of people with disabilities, the provision of mental health and medical care, suicide prevention, and the use of solitary confinement.” The county has also agreed to reduce the population of the jails, and to make changes to the jail’s physical plant – the building itself. The agreement also places limits on the use of solitary confinement, which jail and prison guards euphemistically refer to as “segregation.”
Tifanei Ressl-Moyer, a staff attorney with Disability Rights California, said in a statement, “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.”
Other sources: disabilityrightsca.org, sacbee.com
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login