‘Less institutional’: SLO County Jail opens a new medical and special programs unit

Take a tour of the SLO County Jail’s new medical facility

The San Luis Obispo County Jail's new Medical Programs Unit features an 8,000-square-foot facility that will provide examination rooms for medical, dental and mental health treatment.
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The San Luis Obispo County Jail's new Medical Programs Unit features an 8,000-square-foot facility that will provide examination rooms for medical, dental and mental health treatment.

The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday unveiled its new County Jail medical and special programs unit, an 8,000-square-foot facility designed to provide better medical and dental treatment to inmate patients and double the jail’s ability to offer education and rehabilitation programs.

The Sheriff’s Office says the Medical Programs Unit — built atop the former location of the old Women’s Jail — will provide not only better service to inmates in need of medical and dental attention, it also provides mental health space for inmates as a Behavioral Health Unit remains in development.

The new facility, which is centrally located in the overall jail complex, is comprised of both a medical space and programs area, and will serve male and female inmates and patients separately.

The jail has for years treated inmates in the Stahl Hall building attached to the main jail, which has just one examination room, one room for mental health treatment and a few administrative offices.

The medical side of the Medical Programs Unit contains an inmate waiting area, two exam rooms, a dental suite, two mental health consultation rooms and an isolation holding cell.

The county contracts with Community Health Centers to provide inmates dental care, and the new dental suite allows inmates to be seen within the security of the jail instead of off-site.

The facility does not, however, include hospital beds; inmates in need of care requiring a bed will be treated at a hospital, according to Correctional Lt. Stephanie Landgraf, head of the Sheriff’s Office’s custodial support services.

A staff area consists of additional office space, a conference room, pharmacy, break room and two medical storage rooms.

The programs area on the other side of the facility contains three offices and three classrooms, as well as an inmate restroom and one staff bathroom.

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Lt. Stephanie Landgraf leads a tour of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office’s new Medical Programs Unit, an 8,000-square-foot facility built over the former location of the old Women’s Jail, to better serve the jail population’s medical, dental and mental health needs, as well as other support and substance abuse treatment programs. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

According to Landgraf, the new facility represents a net gain of five classrooms, each of which can be configured in different ways to accommodate several uses. The rooms feature folding tables, stackable chairs, white boards, wall mounted TVs and computer connections.

Landgraf said the jail currently offers about 37 different rehabilitative programs, such as court-ordered anger management or parenting programs; educational courses such as GED; and drug and alcohol abuse treatment.

Compared to other long-standing facilities at the jail, such as Stahl Hall, the new Medical Programs Unit is brighter, cleaner and presents a more therapeutic environment, the Sheriff’s Office says.

“It’s less institutional, a little more school-like — philosophically, that’s the direction jails are taking,” Landgraf said. “Long gone are the days of bars and concrete.”

The facility is expected to begin receiving inmates and patients in the coming weeks following additional training for roughly 200 staff members and other administrative steps.

The San Luis Obispo County Jail has been under increased scrutiny following a series of inmate deaths Sheriff Ian Parkinson has said have been related to having a jail population that is more in need of mental and medical treatment for serious disorders and chronic conditions.

Since 2012, 13 inmates have died in the jail. On Saturday, 47-year-old Michael Wayne Nonella of Arroyo Grande allegedly hung himself in his cell 10 days after his probation officer recommended the court order he undergo a mental health evaluation. It is unclear if that evaluation occurred before his death.

In addition to a series of state and federal lawsuits related to inmate deaths and allegedly inadequate medical and mental health services and treatment, the FBI has also launched an investigation into alleged civil rights abuses following the controversial death of Atascadero resident Andrew Holland in January 2017.

The FBI investigation remains ongoing, an FBI spokeswoman said Tuesday, and agents conducted interviews of county employees in June.

The county has made changes in policy for how they deal with mentally ill inmates, and the county is in the process of participating in the National Stepping Up Initiative to further mental health resources for people in the criminal justice system.

In May, the county board of supervisors amended the county’s 2018-19 budget to allocate an additional $2.3 million to reform and expand health care services for jail inmates following a year of public debate and controversy over Holland’s death.

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Matt Fountain 781-7909, @mattfountain1
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