Thursday, April 19, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 7
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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on March 14th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 2 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 2

Outside expert health care reports echo previous investigation into Santa Barbara County Jail conditions

By KASEY BUBNASH

Several documents, including medical and mental health care reports on the Santa Barbara County Jail, were filed in court on March 6 as part of a federal class action lawsuit against Santa Barbara County and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office, which oversees the jail.

The complaint, which was originally filed on Dec. 6 last year, includes detailed accounts of the county's poor treatment of inmates with disabilities and mental health issues, and claims that conditions in the Santa Barbara County Jail are dangerous and unlawful.

Current inmates Clay Murray, David Franco, Shareen Winkle, Maria Tracy, and Eric Brown are listed as the lawsuit's plaintiffs and are seeking court-ordered systematic reforms within the jail and its policies to improve quality of life for inmates with mental illnesses and disabilities.

The plaintiffs are not requesting damages, according to Aaron Fischer, an attorney representing the plaintiffs through Disability Rights California, which conducted an extensive investigation into the Santa Barbara County Jail's treatment of its inmates in 2015. During the investigation, Fischer said Disability Rights and the Prison Law Office found several major violations of prisoners' rights, including excessive isolation and use of solitary confinement, inadequate mental health care, and discrimination against inmates with disabilities.

Since the investigation, Fischer said the Sheriff's Office and county have been working in constant, cooperative correspondence with Disability Rights through structured negotiation agreements. As part of those agreements, Fischer said the county agreed to hire several outside experts to complete reviews of the Santa Barbara County Jail and its practices. Two of those county-approved experts, doctors Scott Allen and Roberta Stellman, recently completed their reviews of the jail's medical and mental health services.

Both executive summaries are extensive and each includes pages of recommendations and possible solutions to the jail's various inadequacies, which each expert found to be similar to those outlined in the investigation completed by Disability Rights California. Fischer said Disability Rights filed the reports in court so that they could become available to the public.

"The reports show that these are systemic issues that require attention and need to be addressed," Fischer told the Sun. "The good news is that we now have these very strong and detailed reports that provide a roadmap to fixing the problem, which has also been missing for a long time."

Along with the expert reports, Disability Rights filed a motion for class certification on March 6, which would allow the lawsuit to represent all current and former inmates of the jail. That can have benefits for Disability Rights and the county, which Fischer said both hope to avoid costly litigation.

The county has indicated that it will not oppose the motion for class certification, and a hearing on the matter is scheduled for April 12 at the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.




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