Monday, October 14, 2019     Volume: 20, Issue: 32

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on March 19th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 3 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 20, Issue 3

Inmate health care complaints are down at Santa Barbara County Jail, but advocates say there's more work to be done


"Despite allergy tests and a special food diet, patient continues to have hives and rash."

"Needs antidepressants."

"States they are not receiving medication and want to see an outside doctor for X-rays and an ultrasound."

A recent report found that inmate complaints related to medical and metal health care at the Santa Barbara County Jail decreased by 33 percent in 2018.

These are just some of the complaints related to mental and medical health care filed by inmates in the Santa Barbara County Jail through its grievance process last year. As the jail continues its efforts to enact reforms that address concerns from advocates—as well as allegations in an ongoing lawsuit—that poor care and conditions are violating inmates' civil rights, a recent report from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office indicates that it may be making progress, noting a sharp decrease in inmate complaints over medical and mental health care.

Advocates say the drop in formally filed complaints, called grievances, is promising and represents a step in the right direction, but they're adamant that inmates are still falling through the cracks.

Inmates are able to file a written grievance when they feel their needs are not being met. Jail staff then investigate the complaint and can take action to resolve the issue if it is determined to be valid.

According to the report, authored by jail Grievance Oversight Coordinator Lt. Mark Mahurin, the total number of medical, mental health, and dental care related complaints for 2018 decreased by 33 percent from the previous year, dropping from 549 complaints in 2017 to 363 in 2018. In addition, the average response time for such complaints also decreased from 4.6 days to 4.3 days.

In his report, Mahurin said that the majority of the complaints in 2018—about 66 percent—were related to general medical care. The complaints were addressed through sick calls, follow-up appointments, and other similar actions. Complaints related to mental health services made up 6 percent of the total grievances.

"The majority of [those] grievances were requests for mental health medications or adjustment of existing medication," Mahurin wrote. "Each received treatment with the psychiatrist or tele-psych to address the specific issue."

Families Act! Executive Director Suzanne Riordan characterized the decrease in complaints as a positive development. Families Act! is a local nonprofit organization that has been advocating for reforms at the jail for more than a decade.

"In general, the grievance process has improved," she told the Sun. "We are very glad to see it."

Riordan said she thought the decrease was due in part to the creation of the grievance oversight coordinator position at the jail, as well as the creation of a Community Corrections Input Group (CCIG), which works with the coordinator and makes recommendations about the grievance process and the delivery of mental, medical, and dental health services in the jail. As coordinator, Mahurin is in charge of overseeing the grievance process and addressing and coordinating the resolution of the complaints. He also collects grievance-related data for the reports, which have been submitted to the supervisors quarterly since 2016.

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors created both the coordinator position and the input group in 2016, partially spurred by calls from Families Act!, which Riordan said pushed the supervisors to address concerns about the grievance process and inmate care at the jail.

"We made a list of some of the worst grievances in the jail and asked them to create the position," she said.

In addition to the coordinator and the input group, Riordan said she thought that the county's decision to hire a new contractor to provide health care at the jail in 2017 may have also helped decrease the number of complaints. Pressure to address concerns about inmate care due to a civil rights lawsuit filed by Disability Rights California may have also helped, she posited.

Still, Riordan said there is room for improvement, particularly when it comes to inmates suffering from mental health issues and placed in isolation.

"We have people with very severe mental illness, and a very ill person may be incapable of even filling out a grievance form," she said. "So they are going to fall through the cracks and not get brought up in that process."

Moving forward, Riordan said, Families Act! will continue its work to help the jail's inmates and their families, including operating an information table outside the jail's visitation registration window on Saturdays and Sundays. The county staff report said the input group would continue to hold monthly meetings and provide recommendations to improve the process and procedures for filing grievances. 

Staff Writer Chris McGuinness can be reached at

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