Grand jury slams jail’s treatment of mentally ill as ‘vicious cycle’

Santa Barbara Grand Jury foreperson Kathryn McKee

SANTA BARBARA – The Santa Barbara County Grand Jury on Friday issued a scathing analysis of the processing and treatment of homeless, indigent and mentally ill inmates through the county jail system.

The grand jury’s 19-page report “Homeless Mentally Ill Indigent Recidivism” identifies a “target group” of jail inmates caught up in a “vicious cycle of mentally ill, possibly substance-abusing, uninsured, indigent, homeless individuals recycling in and out of jail” who have a significant chance of “ending up dead on the street.”

The report focuses on the role of the county jail as the county’s de facto mental health institution, indicating that 30 percent of inmates are administered psychotropic medication in spite of the fact that jail staff is not trained to either assess or treat mental disorders.

The grand jury, under the leadership of foreperson Kathryn McKee, consisted of 20 area residents from throughout the county.

Among areas of concern expressed by the grand jury, the failure of staff to designate housing units for the mentally ill within the jail facility, provide continuum care from booking through release, conduct adequate management of inmates, provide discharge planning, screen inmates at intake and adequately train security staff in the handling of mentally ill inmates were all highlighted as violations of California Code of Regulations Title 22.

The report made six direct “recommendations,” including a demand for an audit of current financial costs to the county of “target group” jail services now in excess of $12 million, immediate enforcement of the contract in place with Prison Health Services Inc., and funding of mental health treatment courts.

The report concludes with a mandated demand for a response from the county sheriff within 60 days. When contacted for a response, sheriff’s department spokesman Officer Drew Sugars responded that “the department is reviewing the report and will provide a response once everyone has had a chance to review the report.”

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