San Luis Obispo County Jail violated inmates’ constitutional rights, federal investigation finds

California
Frank Fuller, age 66, walks back to his prison cell after taking medication at California Men's Colony prison on Dec. 19, 2013, in San Luis Obispo, California. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Frank Fuller, age 66, walks back to his prison cell after taking medication at California Men’s Colony prison on Dec. 19, 2013, in San Luis Obispo, California. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

California’s San Luis Obispo County Jail violated the constitutional rights of incarcerated people by failing to provide adequate medical and mental health care and subjecting some inmates to excessive uses of force, according to a federal investigation.

A report released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that “there is reason to believe that the practices at the jail violate the Eighth and 14th Amendments of the Constitution, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).”

The probe that began in 2018 found that inmates with mental health disabilities faced restrictive housing conditions and were denied access to services, programs and activities.

The Department of Justice said it has provided the jail with its findings, along with the minimum remedial measures necessary to address them.

“Our Constitution guarantees that all people held in jails and prisons across our country are treated humanely, and that includes providing access to necessary medical and mental health care,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Tuesday that it recognizes the “issues and concerns brought forth” by the Justice Department, but that the report “fails to take into account the many remedial measures undertaken” since the investigation began.

According to the statement, San Luis Obispo County has been recognized for its work reducing the number of days people with serious mental illness are in jail custody.

In addition, the county has created a special housing unit that provides “dedicated space to treat and house patients with special needs, including chronic medical and mental health problems” and expanded its medical, mental and dental health care for inmates, according to the statement.

The Sheriff’s Office said that any allegations of inappropriate force that were proven have resulted in disciplinary action.

“The Sheriff’s Office has worked cooperatively with the Department of Justice over the past three years to investigate deficiencies and determine appropriate improvements to ensure our jail facility is fully compliant with federal law,” Sheriff Ian Parkinson said in the statement. “We are pleased with our progress so far and will continue to work diligently to provide a safe and secure jail facility.”

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