Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, RBGG has been working to address the spread of COVID-19 within Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail and to encourage the release of as many prisoners as possible to increase the ability to social distance. RBGG’s Ernest Galvan, Jeffrey Bornstein, and Kara Janssen represent eight named plaintiffs in a class action case filed in December 2018 against Alameda County on behalf of all prisoners, including prisoners with psychiatric disabilities, challenging the unconstitutional use of isolation, denial of constitutionally adequate mental health treatment, and unlawful segregation of prisoners with mental illness into units without access to programming and other basic services at the County’s Santa Rita Jail.
The parties initially participated in weekly hearings before Magistrate Judge Cousins, now bi-weekly, to address testing, quarantines, social distancing, sanitation and other items necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19. The effect of COVID-19 in the Jails conditions in the Jails prior to the pandemic was discussed extensively in a Berkeleyside article on May 12 The article discusses the extensive problems at the Jail which have resulted in 45 deaths over a five year period prior to COVID-19. In the article RBGG Senior Counsel Kara Janssen notes “most county jails don’t see the levels of deaths Santa Rita Jail does.” These problems were documented in multiple expert reports filed publically in this case which “reveal ongoing problems at the jail and corroborate some of the complaints made by inmates. The experts concluded that the jail is severely understaffed, that mental health services are severely limited, and that inmates are isolated in cells for lengthy periods of time.”