RBGG’s Kara Janssen provided commentary to KTVU for a recent investigative story, Death rate at Santa Rita exceeds nation’s largest jail system as critics call for reform.  Kara is a member of the RBGG legal team that filed a class action in federal court against Alameda County in December 2018 alleging that prisoners with psychiatric disabilities are being held in isolation in small, filthy cells for 23 to 24 hours per day with little or no treatment, resulting in deaths and terrible suffering.  More information on the case here.

In the article Kara’s discusses the potential impact of the lawsuit:

“Reform could also be made through the class action lawsuit, said attorney Kara Janssen.

Her firm, Rosen, Bien, Galvan and Grunfeld, is demanding that the sheriff and county stop the use of “cruel and unusual” isolation cells and provide adequate mental health care and reasonable accommodations to prisoners with disabilities. Her firm is not seeking any punitive damages. Rather, her firm and the county have agreed to a panel of experts who are now evaluating the jail.

Since June, Dr. James Austin, Dr. Kerry Hughes, Terri McDonald and Michael Brady have been inspecting Santa Rita, taking photos of the cells and reviewing documents, Janssen said. There are mediation dates scheduled through December 2019 to see if any type of reforms can be made, which would avert the need for a trial.

‘We agree this is a hard issue,’ Janssen said. ‘And the jail can’t fix everything. But many of these people should not be incarcerated. The jail is not set up for people in a mental health crisis. There is a large issue for the county to create a system of connecting these people with services and putting them in isolation isn’t the answer.'”

Kara is also quoted later in the article re the use of “safety cells”:

“Safety cells: Suicidal inmates are often put in safety cells, where inmates are supposed to be kept for short periods of time. The cells have no toilets and no sinks per state law.  Inmates placed in safety cells are stripped naked and dressed in a tear-proof smock.  Inmates defecate through a grate and have to ask for toilet paper, according to a federal lawsuit. ‘You can imagine how often that happens,’ said plaintiff’s attorney, Kara Janssen. ‘That is a horrible way to respond to someone who is suicidal.'”