Creating space for mental health treatment at the San Luis Obispo County Jail is one priority in a long list of recommendations to improve inmate care that will be presented to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
This year, three inmates have died in County Jail custody, and county officials pledged to make improvements to prevent inmate deaths following a $5 million settlement to one of the inmate’s families in July.
Last week, inmate Russell Hammer died of a reported embolism after complaining to a Sheriff’s Office deputy that he wasn’t feeling well, the 12th inmate to die in custody since 2012.
San Luis Obispo County Jail has an inmate death rate more than double the most recent national average.
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In October, the Board of Supervisors voted to enroll the county as a participant in the Stepping Up Initiative, a national campaign to keep people with serious mental health needs out of county jails.
While the program has not been discussed in detail locally, the advocacy group National Alliance on Mental Illness has praised the campaign for bringing local governments into contact with national organizations such as the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the National Association of Counties, the American Psychiatric Foundation and other stakeholder organizations.
The board created two ad hoc committees to study the jail’s issues and report back: an executive committee of representatives from the Public Defender’s Office, County Behavioral Health, the District Attorney’s Office, Sheriff’s Office, Probation Department and the County Administrative Office; and a planning committee of staff from the county, and local groups such as Transitions Mental Health, National Alliance on Mentally Illness, El Camino Homeless Organization, and Restorative Partners.
The planning committee — which the county formerly called the Sheriff’s Task Force on Mental Health — has met bi-weekly since September and was tasked with identifying the needs at the jail and in the community and recommending solutions. The committee finalized its recommendations in October, and the executive committee prioritized those recommendations.
At the same time, jail medical and mental health services are undergoing a review by an outside provider at the request of county administration to further identify improvements. The county is currently working on a request for proposals for contracting jail medical and mental health services. The request is expected to be released early next year.
The following are some of the preliminary recommendations the Board of Supervisors will hear Tuesday in a presentation by Sheriff Ian Parkinson and county health officials:
▪ Facility alterations: Repurposing a now-empty space at the jail, formerly the jail medical facility, for mental health offices and treatment space.
▪ Staffing: Increase mental health and nursing staff to administer involuntary medication; increase custody staff to supervise new mental health facility and conduct additional inmate screening at intake.
▪ Medication: Standardize medication formulary so medication is consistent between custody and mental health staff; increase medication-assisted treatment of drug addiction.
▪ Treatment: Keep better statistics on mental health; establish a team of mentors to work with inmates so that they’re knowledgeable of services when they are released; create a Jail Bed Competency Treatment program to reduce wait times for state hospital beds.
▪ Training: Increase crisis intervention training from 16 hours to 40 hours for jail staff.
▪ Detox/urgent care: Establish a detoxification facility and mental health walk-in clinic in the County Health Department.