Media Update – September 23, 2021

Bay City News Service reports today that a federal district court magistrate judge has given preliminary approval to the settlement, Settlement reached in Santa Rita Jail mental health care case.

RBGG’s Jeff Bornstein is quoted in the article:  “Attorney Jeff Bornstein, one of the attorneys representing the jail’s incarcerated people, said significant changes need to be made and they are underway.  Already, a lot fewer people are in restrictive housing, he said.  But, he said, ‘We have a long way to go.’  ‘We’re cautiously optimistic,’ he said.  The goal is to make things right at the jail rather than simply meeting the minimum requirements for the treatment of the incarcerated people there, Bornstein said.  He said it would be great if people with mental illness didn’t have to go to jail at all.”

San Francisco, CA August 26, 2021 – Plaintiffs and the County of Alameda have reached a proposed settlement in Babu, et al., v. County of Alameda, et al., N.D. Cal. No. 5:18-cv-07677.  Plaintiffs’ counsel at Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld (RBGG) filed a motion today in federal court seeking preliminary approval of a Consent Decree for Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail. 

If approved by the Court, the Decree will make significant changes to the Jail over the next two years and remain in effect for six years, primarily in connection with the delivery of mental health care, out of cell time, ADA accommodations for people with mental health disabilities, classification, use-of-force, discharge planning, coordinating emergency mental health care with John George Psychiatric Hospital, and suicide prevention including limiting the use of safety cells. 

“The Consent Decree was the product of a cooperative process with lawyers from Rosen Bien working closely with lawyers representing the Sheriff and the County”, said Jeffrey Bornstein, a partner at RBGG.  “The Decree requires fundamental and transformative changes at the Jail.  The hope is that the cooperative foundation we have built with the County’s lawyers will bring about the cultural change necessary to end the use of punitive measures such as isolation and lack of out of cell time and to ensure that there are vigorous mental health care, educational and other treatment program opportunities throughout the jail.”

“There has been no meaningful mental health care treatment in the Jail for many years,” added Kara Janssen, senior counsel at RBGG.  “The Consent Decree mandates comprehensive mental health services including, regular mental health rounds, electronic tracking of referrals, prompt delivery of medication, group therapy, treatment planning teams, creation of confidential spaces for services, and discharge planning including coordinating with community-based mental health services.”

The Motion for Preliminary Approval is presently set for hearing on September 22, 2021 before United States Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins.  If preliminarily approved, the Court will set a date for a hearing on final approval.

If the settlement is approved, the County will be required to:

  1. Ensure that people in the Jail receive adequate mental health care, including by ensuring adequate staffing, establishing levels of care, creating treatment plans for eligible individuals, providing treatment services, implementing an electronic system to track referrals, provide daily mental health rounds in Restrictive Housing units, and implementing Therapeutic Housing Unit(s) to provide additional mental health support to those who need it;
  2. Ensure that people in the Jail are offered adequate out-of-cell time each day, including a process for significantly increasing the amount of out-of-cell time offered at the Jail within three months of the effective date. The Jail will continue to increase the amount of out-of-cell time offered until the Jail reaches the new minimum out-of-cell times set out in the Consent Decree which require the Jail to offer at least: 14 hours out-of-cell time per week for people in Restrictive Housing, Recreate Alone Status (Step 1); 21 hours out-of-cell time per week for people in Restrictive Housing, Recreate Together Status (Step 2); and 28 hours out-of-cell time per week for people in General Population celled housing.  Individuals housed in the most restrictive setting within the Therapeutic Housing Units will be offered at least 28 hours of out-of-cell time per week and people housed in the less restrictive, transitional units within the Therapeutic Housing Units will be offered at least 35 hours of out-of-cell time per week.  The Jail will implement an electronic tracking system to allow for comprehensive tracking of out-of-cell time within one year.
  3. Take measures to prevent suicide and self-harm in the Jails, including severely curtailing the use of safety cells and limiting placement in them to no more than 8 hours – to be further reduced to no more than 4 hours after construction of suicide-resistant cells – and implementing procedures and assessments to identify individuals at risk upon arrival at the Jail;
  4. Ensure that individuals with mental health disabilities can access programs and services at the Jail consistent with their classification level, and ensure that those programs are offered throughout the Jail;
  5. Implement a new classification system that limits the use and duration of restrictive housing;
  6. Coordinate care for people in distress/crises sent on psychiatric holds to John George Psychiatric Hospital; and
  7. Implement systems, including through close coordination between Alameda County Behavioral Health Services and the Jail, to facilitate transition to community-based services upon release.

Joint neutral experts and Class Counsel will monitor the County’s compliance with the Consent Decree.  The Department of Justice will also receive certain access to the Jail and documents in connection with its April 22, 2021 report of investigation.  

Today’s court filings are available here.  The proposed Consent Decree is set out as Exhibit A of the Janssen Declaration.

Janssen Decl ISO PLAINTIFFS Unopposed Motion for Preliminary Approval of Consent Decree, 08-26-2021

Proposed Order re PLAINTIFFS Unopposed Motion for Preliminary Approval of Consent Decree, 08-26-2021

Unopposed Motion for Preliminary Approval of Consent Decree, 08-26-2021

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Selected Media coverage:

Santa Rita Jail to implement mental health reforms following settlement,  Daily Cal, September 7, 2021

Alameda County Jail’s mental health care would be overhauled under proposed lawsuit settlement, Oaklandside, August 30, 2021

Proposed settlement reached in federal class action suit over Alameda County Jail mental health care, Livermore Independent, August 28, 2021

Class action lawsuit may lead to better mental health care at Santa Rita Jail, Bay City News, August 27, 2021

Major mental health care reforms proposed at Santa Rita Jail with legal agreement, KTVU News, August 26, 2021


Media Contact:  Carl Whitaker – 510.847.0599 –