The 2019 Grand Jury investigated systems in place at the Sonoma County Jail, which is run by the Sheriff’s Office. It reported that our jail is providing quality medical care, drug treatment, dental, mental health and educational opportunities. The 13-page report released yesterday demonstrates the jury performed a detailed investigation of these systems and noted the additional challenges placed on our county jail due to the 2011 realignment bill known as AB 109. This bill resulted in the Sheriff’s office housing more state prison inmates who are serving longer sentences than ever before.
It is also important to note these challenges include 45 percent of the jail population has been diagnosed with a mental health illness, substance abuse issue or both in many of these cases. 44 percent of the inmates have also self-reported to be homeless or unsheltered.
The report notes that the Sheriff’s office is responding to these new demands and challenges that our jail was never designed for. The report comments that our current health care provider, Wellpath, is delivering quality medical, dental, mental health and substance abuse treatments. Also noted is the Sheriff’s commitment to inmate education through the steady improvement in courses and learning opportunities in the jail. In fact, by the fall of 2019 inmates will be able to earn their GED while incarcerated, adding to their ability to gain successful employment when released from custody.
Of particular note in the report is our Jail-Based Competency Program. This program helps inmates who are deemed incompetent to stand trial. Historically, inmates were transferred to state hospitals, which was deemed ineffective. This new program focuses on assessment, psychotherapy and psychiatric medication. Since this program was started, inmates in our jail are reaching competency levels in an average of 70 days, which is 20 days faster than the state average. This program is so effective; it has been used as a role model for other jails around the state.
The Grand Jury gave us some recommendations, including adding an additional nighttime nurse to provide more efficiency in the booking process; implementing a broader screening process for tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS during the admissions process; providing a comprehensive vaccination process; using maintenance medication to treat opioid addiction; keeping the same HIV/AIDS medications for inmates; and improving coordination to ensure effective medical hand-offs when inmates are released from custody.
These recommendations, the result of a lengthy investigation, are thoughtful and provide additional opportunities to improve our services at the jail. Sheriff Essick is very thankful of the exhaustive work of the 2019 Civil Grand Jury. Essick noted “the Civil Grand Jury is an important process of local government oversight and I am very appreciative of their efforts, their acknowledgement of our achievements and their feedback on ways in which we can improve. This has been a rewarding and collaborative experience,”