Grand Jury: Mentally Ill Inmates in County Jails Are Isolated and Over-Medicated

While the Orange County jail has become the de facto housing facility for the mentally ill, a lack of funding for treatment programs and over-reliance on isolation techniques and medication means most mentally ill inmates have needs that are going unmet, according to a new report from the county grand jury.

County jail facilities, which include the Central Men’s Jail and Intake and Release Center, are short-term detention centers for inmates awaiting trial or sentencing. During the first ten months of 2015, the facilities housed 13,548 mentally-ill inmates, with 89 percent of them housed in the general population rather in mental health beds, the report said.

For inmates whose mental illness can-make them a danger to themselves or others, the jail tends to rely on medication and isolation in padded cells rather than counseling or structured programs. These conditions are neither safe nor therapeutic for seriously ill inmates, according to the report.

The report, which looks at mental health treatment options for male inmates housed in the county jail system, pointed to a general lack of resources and procedural clarity for mental health professionals serving the jail, resulting in inmates being held in sub-standard conditions.

Among the findings of the report:

  • The Intake and Release Center doesn’t have enough mental health beds to accommodate all the seriously ill inmates who need regular medical, psychiatric, nursing or case management services.
  • Less than 1 percent of the total jail population has access to group therapy. Counselors who conduct the therapy don’t have any specific training or guidelines.
  • There’s no system to ensure humane treatment of inmates kept in padded “safety cells” where they are “are cold, sleep next to a grate that is used as a toilet, and no water is available for the inmate to wash hands after the use of the toilet and prior to eating meals.”
  • Safety cells are used as a substitute for treatment — although there’s no criteria for moving someone into or out of a safety cell.
  • Neither Correctional Health Services nor the Sheriff’s Department collects or analyzes data on use of safety cells other than how often they are used.
  • Low salaries mean there aren’t enough jail psychiatrists to go around — meaning only inmates who are seriously ill or in crisis receive any type of mental health care.

The report, however, does highlight areas where the county has excelled, such as the implementation of Laura’s Law, which empowers courts to order psychiatric services for people with serious mental illnesses.

Collaborative courts, such as drug court or veteran’s court, have been effective at reducing recidivism and costs to the jail system, according to the report.

The report has recommended an overhaul of jail mental health services, including additional funding for psychiatric care and collaborative courts, the creation of mental health programs for all inmates, additional protocol to guide mental health staff, and the creation of a team to analyze jail data and quality of life for inmates.

Read the full report on the grand jury’s website.

Contact Thy Vo at or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.

  • OCservant_Leader

    Corruption and mismanagement of the healthcare provided in OC facilities? Again? This isn’t new.

    1. RX Contract is THE priority. $90 Million? BOS watch this one like a hawk. It’s special.
    2. They can’t find Psychiatrists because professionals aren’t willing to jeapardize their license to be a part of the scam.

    Just follow the money and then all the dysfunction starts to make sense.

  • Jacki Livingston

    *yawn* Oh, gee, look, Mabel…another tirade from the no-teeth Grand Jury, run by T-Rack’s golden boy. How….fas…cin…a…ti….*snore*

    • Jacki Livingston

      To add…it is NOT FAIR to blame the cops, deputies and staff of these jails for the BoS’s failure to act. These people didn’t go into social work. They went into a tough, thankless job to keep us safe from the worst of the worst, and I, for one, am grateful to those people who heed that call and do it with honor and integrity. Are there bad apples? No doubt. But, in my experience, these people go into a very dangerous world, every day, and they are not trained to be mental health workers or doctors. They are not to blame for the failure of the system. I thank them, for their hard work, because I know I could never do that job.

  • Ed Romero


  • Ed Romero

    Apparently the Detainees are not the only ones suffering from Mental Illness. Today I was advised by this Internet Tech that someone is SPYING on me on the Internet, that there are 4 different devices connected to my Computer. It must be someone from Orange County Law Enforcement. It I’m correct, if they wanted to SPY on anyone it should of been both of those former O C Sheriff’s, especially the one that was LOSING all the Cocaine and Marijuana in the Evidence Locker at the Sheriff Department, some of that Cocaine and Marijuana was ending in Brown Paper Lunch Bags and delivered to that corrupt Asst. Chief Probation Officer that had her very own Gang of Drug Dealers, making deliveries right into her Office while on duty. Now I understand why I’m not receiving any replies to my Genealogy contacts. All I’m trying to do is make contact with my Mother long lost Family. I’m not STEALING

  • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

    BigPharma is not the cure. It is not a remedy. It speculates. Please do not lab animal animals, or people in need. System fail.