September 25, 2021

Justice Department finds conditions at county jail violated US Constitution

Report states jail failed to provide adequate medical and mental health care to inmates, among other deficiencies

A Justice Department report released today found that San Luis Obispo County Jail violated the rights of prisoners by, among other things, failing to provide adequate medical care and subjecting some prisoners to excessive uses of force. The report calls upon the jail to make changes to address the constitutional violations found during an investigation. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California conducted the investigation.

The Justice Department concluded that there is reason to believe that the practices at the jail violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Specifically, the department concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that the jail fails to provide constitutionally adequate medical and mental health care to prisoners; that the jail violates the constitutional rights of prisoners with serious mental illness through its prolonged use of restrictive housing; that the jail violates the constitutional rights of prisoners through the use of excessive force; and that the jail violates the ADA by denying prisoners with mental health disabilities access to services, programs and activities because of their disabilities.

As required by the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), the department provided the facility with written notice of the supporting facts for these findings and the minimum remedial measures necessary to address them.

“Our constitution guarantees that all people held in jails and prisons across our country are treated humanely, and that includes providing access to necessary medical and mental health care,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “After a comprehensive investigation, we found that San Luis Obispo Jail harms the people it incarcerates by subjecting them to excessive force and by failing to provide adequate medical and mental health care. The Justice Department hopes to continue to work with the jail to resolve these systemic problems.”

“San Luis Obispo County violated the rights of prisoners in its jail in several ways, including failing to provide adequate health care and subjecting some prisoners to excessive force,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison for the Central District of California. “Our office is dedicated to defending the civil rights of everyone in this district, including those behind bars.”

The Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California initiated the investigation in October 2018 under CRIPA and Title II of the ADA, which authorize the department to take action to address a pattern or practice of deprivation of legal rights of individuals confined to state or local government-run correctional facilities. Individuals with relevant information are encouraged to contact the department by phone at (844) 710-4900, or by email at usacac.slo@usdoj.gov.

Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt.

Additional information about the civil rights section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office is available at https://www.justice.gov/usao-cdca/civil-division/civil-rights. Contact the civil rights section by emailing usacac.cv-civilrights@usdoj.gov or calling (213) 894-2879. You can also report civil rights violations to the Section by completing the complaint form available at https://www.justice.gov/usao-cdca/file/762076/download.

The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Office acknowledged the report and issued a news release in response:

We recognize the issues and concerns brought forth in the DOJ report. However, the report fails to take into account the many remedial measures undertaken by the Sheriff’s Office since 2018 when the investigation began. The following are changes made to date, to name only a few:

    • Named an “Innovator County” for the Stepping Up Initiative for work in reducing the number of days individuals with serious mental illness are in county jail.
    • Started a Jail Based Competency Treatment Program to restore patients with serious mental illness to competency to avoid long Department of State Hospital wait times.
    • Created the Behavioral Health Unit (BHU) and Kansas Max Housing Unit which provide dedicated space to treat and house patients with special needs, including chronic medical and mental health problems.
    • Expanded medical, mental health, and dental care under Wellpath, a correctional health care company, now in year 3 of its contract with San Luis Obispo County.
    • Progressing ahead of schedule with Americans with Disabilities Act Improvements per a recent settlement agreement.
    • Initiated a Compliance Unit including the Chief Medical Officer position and increased staffing.
    • Implemented a 40-hour Crisis Intervention Training among other tactical and administrative topics for all staff.

Additionally, the report claims some inmates were subjected to an excessive use of force. Jail leadership takes complaints seriously. Any allegation of inappropriate force has been investigated by the Professional Standards Unit and any instances of sustained complaints have resulted in disciplinary action, up to and including termination.

“The Sheriff’s Office has worked cooperatively with the Department of Justice over the past three years to investigate deficiencies and determine appropriate improvements to ensure our jail facility is fully compliant with federal law,” said Sheriff Parkinson. “We are pleased with our progress so far and will continue to work diligently to provide a safe and secure jail facility.”


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