Sonoma County Main Jail's acute mental health unit.

A new report by the advocacy group Disability Rights California says that Sonoma County’s main jail is not
providing adequate care for inmates with mental health disabilities. The report, based on a 2015 inspection, found
that many prisoners are isolated for more than 23 hours a day, and in some cases, are inappropriately medicated
against their will. County officials say they are doing all they can to address the burgeoning population of mentally
ill inmates and point to a dramatic increase in spending for mental health treatment. We discuss the report.

This segment was produced as a project for the California Data Fellowship, a program of the Center for Health Journalism at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

More Information:

Disability Rights Advocates Expose Poor Conditions, Neglect at Sonoma County Jail 26 May,2016Michael Krasny

Anne Hadreas, attorney, Disability Rights California
Michael Kennedy, behavioral health director, Sonoma County Department of Health Services
Randall Walker, assistant sheriff, Sonoma County Sheriff's Office

  • Patricia

    Disability Rights is missing the big picture here. Why are those with severe mental illness ending up in jail instead of in therapeutic settings where medication and therapy could be more competently managed than in a correctional institution? Its not surprising that Disability Rights focuses on the issue of overmedication instead, since they share responsibility for the deplorable incarceration of the mentally ill. The lawyers at Disability Rights file lawsuits to thwart programs that would provide timely medical interventions to those experiencing psychiatric crisis, virtually guaranteeing that they will end up in our jails and prisons. They oppose mandated treatment in the name of civil liberties, despite the fact that far too often the result of withheld treatment is the loss of all liberty. Those with untreated schizophrenia, bipolar, and other psychotic disorders, while in the grip of paranoia or delusional thinking, are often unable to self direct their own care. When they refuse voluntary treatment and are left to deteriorate until they reach crisis, there are no beds in psychiatric hospitals where they can receive appropriate medical care. Doctors routinely tell family members to try to have their family members arrested because that is the only way they might get some treatment. When Prop 63 was passed, DR sued the state to prevent any of the revenue to be used for Laura’s Law, which creates outpatient programs to provide treatment in the community for those who are badly deteriorating and refusing voluntary treatment. Having an illness is not a crime. Leaving those with disabilities to sicken on the streets with police rather than doctors to respond to their crises is the real crime.

  • Lindsay Aikman

    There is a crisis in Mental Health Care in this country, and especially in Alameda County. Your recent story on the horrible conditions for the mentally ill in Sonoma County Jail is just the tip of the iceberg.

    Many of us with adult children with Serious Mental Illness (SMI) have been dealing with this situation for years, if not decades, and we have had little help from the Alameda County Mental Health System. This is endangering our loved ones and others, and has been going on for far too long.

    We need to redefine the criteria for who needs long-term treatment based on their mental health history (which passage of AB 1194 is supposed to require), and not whether they are “dangerous to themselves or others” at that moment, but on their level of functioning and taking care of themselves. SMI people with delusions and hallucinations cannot make good decisions, and families are often excluded from any treatment decisions due to HIPAA laws.

    We also desperately need more facilities for long-term treatment with medication. John George is failing because they don’t have enough in-house facilities to treat our SMI citizens.

    I’ve been seeking treatment for my adult schizophrenic son for nine years. He’s still on the streets, getting no help or treatment and getting more and more ill, agitated and delusional—because he can’t see he is ill, and has been denied help by John George and Mental Health Crisis Teams. I fear he’ll end up in prison where he’ll get no help at all.

    Since Prop 63 has raised billions of dollars since it was passed in 2004, why aren’t there more in-house treatment beds available?

    There is lots of newsworthy material available if you want to invest more time and pursue this important and crucial situation. Contact the many Family Support Groups in our area and you will find dozens of families willing to tell their stories.


Michael Krasny

Michael Krasny, PhD, has been in broadcast journalism since 1983. He was with ABC in both radio and television and migrated to public broadcasting in 1993. He has been Professor of English at San Francisco State University and also taught at Stanford, the University of San Francisco and the University of California, as well as in the Fulbright International Institutes. A veteran interviewer for the nationally broadcast City Arts and Lectures, he is the author of a number of books, including “Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life” (Stanford University Press) “Spiritual Envy” (New World); “Sound Ideas” (with M.E. Sokolik/ McGraw-Hill); “Let There Be Laughter” (Harper-Collins) as well as the twenty-four lecture series in DVD, audio and book, “Short Story Masterpieces” (The Teaching Company). He has interviewed many of the world’s leading political, cultural, literary, science and technology figures, as well as major figures from the world of entertainment. He is the recipient of many awards and honors including the S.Y. Agnon Medal for Intellectual Achievement; The Eugene Block Award for Human Rights Journalism; the James Madison Freedom of Information Award; the Excellence in Journalism Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association; Career Achievement Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and an award from the Radio and Television News Directors Association. He holds a B.A. (cum laude) and M.A. from Ohio University and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin.

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