San Francisco, CA – On February 7, 2022, United States Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins issued an order granting final approval of the Consent Decree in Babu, et al., v. County of Alameda, et al., N.D. Cal. No. 5:18-cv-07677.  The order is here.

 “The Consent Decree approved by Judge Cousins requires fundamental and transformative changes at Santa Rita Jail,” said Jeffrey Bornstein, a partner at Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld representing plaintiffs. “People are suffering and dying right now in the jail because they are locked down and isolated without mental health care.  We believe that the court’s order will lay the foundation for urgently needed change, including ending  the use of punitive measures such as isolation and lack of out of cell time, while ensuring that there are vigorous mental health care, educational and other treatment program opportunities available throughout the jail.”

“People have been suffering in the jail for years and the changes embodied in the Consent Decree are long overdue,” added Kara Janssen, Senior Counsel at RBGG.  “Now that the Consent Decree is approved we can finally begin to enforce its requirements and bring relief to those in the Jail.”

According to the court’s order: “the Consent Decree reflects the strength of Plaintiffs’ case as well as the Defendants’ position. The parties extensively evaluated the merits of the case and their positions, and settlement at this time will avoid substantial costs to all parties and avoid the delay and risks presented by further litigation. The Court is also satisfied that the Consent Decree was reached after intensive and prolonged arm’s length negotiations by capable counsel, with input from the United States Department of Justice and under the supervision United States District Court Northern District of California of Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler.”

The order states that “the extent of discovery completed and the stage of proceedings support approval. The last four years of factual investigation and legal analysis were substantial. Even before filing the complaint, Class Counsel spent hundreds of hours communicating with incarcerated individuals by phone and in writing to understand the Jail’s inhumane conditions. After filing the complaint, Class Counsel reviewed over 57,000 pages of documents, attended multiple tours of the Jail over approximately eight days, and retained neutral experts to investigate and render reports on the conditions in the Jail. The discovery process has been thorough.”

The order goes on to say, “numerous objectors implored that the Jail should not be the County’s primary mental health care facility. The Court whole-heartedly agrees with this sentiment. Approval of this Consent Decree is not intended to prevent Defendants or Alameda County from funding community-based mental health services. However, the Court cannot direct the County on how to allocate its finances. Ultimately, the decision to fund certain institutions over others is the County’s. And if the County chooses to continue funding a jail, the Court seeks to ensure that the conditions in that jail are constitutional.”

The Babu case is a federal class action lawsuit challenging: the adequacy of mental health care and treatment at the Jail; suicide prevention and the use of safety cells; overuse of isolation and adequacy of out-of-cell time; access to programs, services and activities especially for persons with mental health disabilities; discharge planning for people with mental health disabilities; sufficiency of accommodations in disciplinary proceedings and in pre-planned use-of-force incidents for persons with mental health disabilities; and the overall policies, procedures, and practices regarding COVID-19 on behalf of all people incarcerated at the Jail.  

In August 2021, after nearly three years of factual investigation, tours, and negotiation, the parties entered into a Consent Decree to resolve all class and subclass claims for injunctive relief raised in this case regarding conditions at the Jail,  The Court granted preliminary approval of the Consent Decree on September 24, 2021

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Selected Media Coverage

Santa Rita Jail’s new oversight explained, KTVU, February 9, 2022

Judge places Santa Rita Jail under external oversight, ending mental health abuse lawsuit, Oaklandside, February 8, 2022

Judge signs off on Santa Rita jail settlement over inmates’ objections, San Francisco Chronicle, February 8, 2022

Judge grants oversight over Santa Rita Jail stemming from mental health abuse suit, KTVU, February 7, 2022

Judge Cousins Approves Santa Rita Consent Decree Despite Vigorous Objections by Incarcerated People at the Jail, Davis Vanguard, February 9, 2022

Alameda County ADA lawsuit settlement prompts controversy, Daily Cal, February 11, 2022