Lawsuits Brought Against California County Correctional Facilities

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — With Gov. Jerry Brown’s AB 109 that sends low-level offenders to county jails rather than state correctional facilities, California county jails have witnessed an influx of lawsuits for alleged unsuitable facilities.

Lawsuits against Alameda, Fresno and Riverside counties have sprung from growing populations that have caused more demands in terms of mental health services.

The Prison Law Office, headquartered in Berkeley, Calif., is heading lawsuits in Fresno and Riverside counties.

Three prisoners from Riverside County filed a class-action lawsuit for allegedly depriving inmates of basic medical and mental health services.

“These people are entirely dependent on the jail for their health care — they have no other options,” said Donald Specter, executive director at the Prison Law Office. “The county does not provide the minimal care that the Constitution demands. To leave them in pain, at risk of life-threatening injury and permanent disability is inhumane.”

While sheriffs have cited Brown’s realignment act as the catalyst to unfit facilities, the Prison Law Office and Disability Rights of California said Riverside and Fresno counties lack of mental health services is the responsible party in these cases.

“Since Fresno has radically cut back outpatient mental health services, the jail has become a costly dumping ground for people with mental illness who need care but cannot find it elsewhere,” said Rachel Scherer, an attorney at Disability Rights California, in a statement. “It would cost the county far less to provide mental health treatment in the community through alternative diversion programs or supervised release of those who pose a low risk to public safety.”

The 3,291-bed county jail is in need of updates to accommodate the growing population, according to Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims. At a board of supervisors meeting last week, Mims requested $80 million in state funding to bring the jail to a 5,000-bed capacity.

About 830 inmates, who would previously be housed in a state facility, now reside in the Fresno County Jail.

According to Nick Warner, legislative director of the California State Sheriff’s Association (CSSA), the CSSA is working with legislators and the governor to make revisions to the law.

With already overcrowded county correctional facilities, the realignment law created an increasing burden, Warner said.

“It exacerbates an already existing difficult situation,” Warner said.

The Legal Services for Prisoners with Children are currently suing Alameda County for its inability to provide adequate services to inmates with disabilities.

Monterey County is also expecting a lawsuit from San Francisco-based law firm Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP.