By Marissa Willman
Riverside County’s five detention centers, including the county detention center in Indio, and five juvenile detention facilities lack adequate staff to provide sufficient mental health treatment to inmates, according to a grand jury report released last month.
The report’s findings come as the county prepares to quadruple the size of the Indio Jail, a $234 million project that will add 1,250 beds to the facility. The Indio Jail currently can currently house up to 350 inmates.
The 19-member grand jury serves as an oversight body to the county by inquiring about and investigating county operations. During the 2011-2012 term, the grand jury conducted an investigation of mental health services in the county’s detention facilities. The findings were released in a report last month.
According to the grand jury report, Riverside County failed to provide adequate mental health treatment, such as counseling, to inmates because it failed to employ enough mental health professionals. The grand jury found there was a significant backlog of patient referrals to mental health care services in adult detention facilities, a problem exacerbated by an influx of inmates under Assembly Bill 109. Under AB 109, which went into effect last October, non-violent felony offenders are incarcerated in county jails rather than state prisons.
“More than 40 percent [of AB 109 transfers] are in need of mental health services,” the report states. “This is twice as many as non AB109 inmates.”
The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department contracts with the county’s Department of Mental Health to provide mental health services to inmates. Last year, the Department of Mental Health was advised by a grand jury report that mental health staffing levels were inadequate and needed to be restored to 2007 levels. Despite this prior recommendation, the grand jury found the county’s level of mental health care for inmates continued to fall for the last year.
Spokespersons from the Riverside County Executive Office and Department of Mental Health declined to comment pending the release of an official response due by the end of August.
The grand jury found that 21 out of 40 clinical positions in jails and three out of nine positions in juvenile facilities throughout Riverside County are unfilled, despite being funded positions. The transferring of experienced mental health care professionals before licensed replacements were available was cited as the cause for the continuing decline of mental health services for county inmates.
Under the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, inmates are entitled to adequate medical, dental and mental health care.
In addition to finding inadequate staffing levels, the report also found that inmates experience gaps in mental health services due to mental health professionals having to travel far distances between facilities. Additionally, the report found that the county has not completed required background investigations for all mental health staff working in juvenile facilities.
Three supervisors are responsible for a mental health staff of over 100 workers in juvenile detention facilities, according to the report, preventing effective personnel management or free communication.
“The grand jury learned that some detention mental health workers are fearful of communicating with supervisors and managers about urgent work- related issues for fear of retaliation,” the report states. “Testimony also revealed that a number of juvenile DMH clinicians have had on-site visits by their supervisors as few as three times a year.”
The report recommended that the Department of Mental Health hire additional mental health professionals to ensure county detention facilities are adequately staffed, conduct annual employee performance reviews, implement a suggestion program to encourage freer communication and ensure supervisors make frequent onsite visits to detention facilities.
On June 26th, Riverside County supervisors directed the county’s executive office to work with the Department of Mental Health to respond to the grand jury’s findings. An official response from the Executive Office to the grand jury’s findings is expected by the end of August.