Alameda County Indicted: Mental Health Patients’ Rights Stepped On

Santa Rita jail

On April 22nd, the US Justice Department indicted Alameda County for violating the legal rights of people suffering from mental health problems. According to one of the lead investigators, they ”…uncovered evidence of violations that, taken together, result in a system where people with mental health disabilities in Alameda County find themselves unnecessarily cycling in and out of psychiatric institutions and jails because they lack access to proven services that would allow them to recover and participate in community life.” We don’t need a law or a report to tell us that throwing people suffering from psychological problems in cages is sick.

In Alameda County, the county jail, Santa Rita, has been and is the largest “provider” of mental health services. Santa Rita’s staff estimates that about 40% of the people in the jail are in need of mental health assistance and the jail’s chief psychiatrist estimated that as much as 25% of the population suffers from a serious mental illness. What is called a “mental health unit” is essentially just solitary confinement. When inmates are able to meet with mental health counselors, it is roughly for fifteen minutes and within earshot of guards and other inmates. Sadly, it’s not a shock that at least fourteen people committed suicide in Santa Rita from 2015 to 2019.

Alameda County’s primary psychiatric hospital is John George, which according to one woman who spent two weeks there, was “the closest thing to Hell I’ve encountered.” People that are released from John George have no treatment plan or medications, just a bus pass. Many of the people who are cleared for discharge have nowhere to go other than the streets. Is it a shock that about 11% of people discharged from the inpatient unit are readmitted within two weeks?

Of course, this is not the mental healthcare that exists for those with money to pay for private care, therapists, and attentive treatment. This is how the system treats working people and the poor, until we unite to fight it.