Three years after agreeing to improve jail conditions to settle a class action lawsuit, Sacramento County is requesting community feedback on ideas to reduce the number of people in its jails.
Sacramento County asks the public to send feedback by Dec. 1, about a week before the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss a population reduction plan as well as options to address issues with jail buildings.
The Mays Consent Decree is a court-approved settlement that came in response to a 2018 lawsuit and requires the county to comply with constitutional standards and the Americans with Disabilities Act in its two jails. Some of those standards include expanding mental health services and improving its medical care and suicide prevention systems. The county also agreed that reducing its jail population could help it comply with the consent decree.
An initial version of the jail population reduction plan is available online and the board will discuss it on Dec. 7. Deputy County Executive Eric Jones said he plans to present the board a variety of possibilities to modify or build additions to the jails, which could also help the county meet the consent decree’s requirements.
Sacramento County’s two jails have an average daily population of 3,700 people, according to a 2020 report. A March 2022 report found the county needs to divert more than 1,000 people from the main jail to comply with the consent decree.
Feedback can be emailed to the county Public Safety and Justice Agency at [email protected]
What is the Mays Consent Decree?
The consent decree is the settlement for the 2018 federal class action lawsuit Mays vs. County of Sacramento. Disability Rights California, Prison Law Office, and Cooley LLP filed the lawsuit on behalf of people incarcerated in Sacramento County jails. Lorenzo Mays, who has been incarcerated in Sacramento county jails since 2010, is the lead plaintiff.
The lawsuit alleged the county failed to give constitutionally required mental health and medical care in its jails and discriminated against disabled people, which violates the ADA. The lawsuit also criticized solitary confinement and suicide prevention measures in county jail facilities. Plaintiffs argued the county violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment.
In January 2020, federal court approved the Mays Consent Decree. The consent decree requires the county to work on the agreed upon plan to improve jail conditions and meet constitutional standards. It also requires the county to give status reports on its progress and for court-appointed experts to monitor compliance with the agreement.
A 101-page monitoring report filed in October 2022 included the following assessment:
“This review showed that the access to care system is broken and that detainees do not have timely access to care following submission of health requests, resulting in harm to patients.”
The consent decree applies to both the main jail and the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove.
What does the jail population reduction plan include?
The six-page plan lists 15 recommendations by county staff to reduce jail admissions, lengths of stay in jail and returns to custody. Guidance includes expanding use of the Jail Diversion Treatment and Resource Center, which could be used as an alternative to booking people with mental illnesses in jail if they are arrested on a misdemeanor charge.
Another listed idea is partnering with the Sacramento County Superior Court to reduce court process delays contributing to longer stays before a trial. The plan also lists relevant recommendations from a Sacramento County Jail study completed by consultant Kevin O'Connell in May 2022.
Current programs such as the Sacramento County Mental Health Treatment Center, which provides short-term acute services for adults experiencing a mental health crisis, are noted in the plan, too.
The plan doesn’t include cost estimates or timelines to implement the recommendations. Jones, the Deputy County Executive for Public Safety and Justice, said the plan needs approval from the board before county staff can start to detail plans and ask for funding at future meetings.
Initial work on the plan dates back to 2018, Jones said, adding that this is the first publicly posted version of the plan. The plan was designed to help the county comply with the Mays Consent Decree.
Why has the plan received criticism?
Decarcerate Sacramento has criticized the plan, calling it a disappointment. Tifanei Moyer, a founding member of Decarcerate Sacramento, questioned why the plan doesn’t include accountability measures when the county has been aware of unconstitutional issues at the jails for years.
“At this stage, it looks like a hodgepodge, like a list of all the things that they hope might be effective,” Moyer said. “But there's no real process that we can follow along and monitor to make sure that it does.”
The organization has also called on the county to add more robust incarceration prevention measures to the plan, so fewer people enter jails in the first place. Moyer said activists are asking the county to invest in community-based services and prevention instead of putting more money into the carceral system.
Will the county again consider building a jail annex?
Groups such as Decarcerate Sacramento and Sacramento Area Congregations together have held workshops in the past month urging people to oppose an annex for the main county jail.
The board rejected building a separate, standalone annex on the northeast corner of the jail in a 4-1 vote back in March 2021. Activists say the board shouldn’t reconsider the so-called Correctional Health And Mental Health Services Facility.
But in an interview with CapRadio, Jones declined to directly say whether the jail annex will be on the table again in the Dec. 7 meeting. Jones said he will bring the board several options to address inadequacies at jails, such as how the main jail does not meet requirements from the ADA.
“We will be answering the questions to the board [such as] what possible modifications can be made with the existing jail facilities, both at the main jail, as well as the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center,” Jones said. “But also what other additions or additional locations may have to be constructed as well. So, there will be a variety of possibilities examined and discussed at that meeting.”
County staff previously argued the annex could help the county meet ADA requirements. Moyer said if a jail cannot safely house people in wheelchairs, the county can seek alternatives besides building a new facility.
“From the community's perspective, you cannot build out of this problem of dangerous jail conditions, of inadequate services in the community,” Moyer said. “What the county right now is responding to is pressure from a lawsuit about how are they going to address the dangerous conditions inside of a jail. What they're running to is the same kind of concept or solution that they always have, which is, ‘well, let's just build something bigger and maybe better.’”
What will the county do with feedback?
County staff plan to sort the feedback into categories, Jones said. They will then look for themes and ideas they can bring to the County Board of Supervisors.
The county doesn’t plan to publicly post the feedback, Jones added. Feedback emailed to [email protected] also will not be considered public comments to the board. But people are welcome to come to the board meeting on Dec. 7 or submit written comments to the board, Jones said.
Although the county is specifically looking for feedback on the jail population reduction plan designed to meet the consent decree’s requirements, Jones said people can email feedback on criminal justice reform in general.