Report uncovers abuse of inmates with disabilities in Sacramento Jail

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Empty Jail Cell

Advocates release scathing report

The Sacramento County Jail is subjecting inmates with disabilities to prolonged isolation, preventing them from obtaining even the most minimum mental health care, according to a scathing new report [PDF] released October 15 from Disability Rights California and the Prison Law Office.

For years, disability and civil rights advocates have railed against solitary confinement, particularly in regard to people with mental health needs, whose symptoms are exacerbated, often permanently, by the practice.

In the Sacramento County Jail, which holds about 4,300 inmates, people in its “most generous” restrictive housing units are held in isolation to 21.5 hours per day. In the “Total Separation Unit,” inmates are given a mere 30 minutes a day outside of their cells.

Even more pressing, DRC and the Prison Law Office found that the jails make “no attempt to screen and exclude prisoners with mental illness from isolation conditions.” Moreover, it found that the areas specifically set aside for prisoners with mental illness, are nonetheless “treated as isolation units.”

Prisoners interviewed by DRC and the Prison Law Office reported multiple suicide attempts and long delays in receiving medications and psychiatric appointments, among other concerns.

“Prolonged time in solitary confinement, especially for prisoners with mental health disabilities, damages them psychologically,” DRC attorney Anne Hadreas said in a news release. “Confining them to small cells for so many hours a day also violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, and constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.”

Among the other ADA violations, the report noted findings of toilets and bathrooms that failed to meet mandated accessibility standards, a lack of an assigned ADA coordinator, and insufficient notices to inmates of their rights and the facilities’ complaint procedures.

Under a comprehensive settlement reached in September, California has agreed to take a variety of steps to reduce the use of solitary confinement in its state-run prisons. However, the agreement has no bearing on the state’s 123 county jails, which house about 73,000 inmates.

In recent years, California’s county jails have received an influx of inmates, as a result of a Supreme Court decision ordering the state to reduce its prison population. In 2011, the state also passed AB 109, the Public Safety Realignment Act, allowing county jails, for the first time, to hold inmates who received sentences of longer than one year, exacerbating the potential for solitary confinement abuses.

Disability Rights California, and Disability Rights Washington, the publisher of Rooted in Rights, are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in California and Washington, respectively, and are members of the National  Disability Rights Network.