In March 1976, Plaintiffs filed this action against the Sheriff of Yuba County, the Yuba County Jailer, and members of the Yuba County Board of Supervisors alleging that the Jail subjected prisoners to cruel and unusual punishment and violated rights secured by the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. Among the violations identified by Plaintiffs were lack of exercise and recreation, inadequate staffing, and inadequate medical and mental health care.
In July 1976, the Court certified the Plaintiff class, consisting of “all prisoners at the Yuba County Jail on March 24, 1976, or at any time during the pendency of this lawsuit ….” On November 13, 1976, the Court granted Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction related to Plaintiffs’ access to exercise and recreation and motions for partial summary judgment, finding ongoing constitutional violations. In May 1979, the Court entered a comprehensive consent decree (“the Consent Decree”) covering most aspects of the Jail’s operations, including medical and mental health care, staffing, grievances, and exercise and recreation, and providing for monitoring Jail conditions.
In May 2013, Defendants filed a motion to terminate the Consent Decree pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”). On April 2, 2014, the Court issued an order denying the County’s motion to terminate the Consent Decree, which was affirmed by the Ninth Circuit. Hedrick v. Grant, 648 F. App’x. 715 (9th Cir. 2016). In upholding this Court’s decision, the Ninth Circuit rejected Defendants’ argument that the Consent Decree was “flawed because the court neither found any constitutional violation, nor stated that the remedy was narrowly tailored.” Id. at 716. According to the Ninth Circuit: “This is incorrect. … [A]ta minimum, the Decree incorporates the Court’s earlier constitutional findings by citing the decision which concluded that Defendants had violated Plaintiffs’ Fifth Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.” Id.
In October of 2018, Plaintiffs moved for the Court to approve an Amended Consent Decree (“ACD”). These new provisions in the ACD require the County to, among other things: adopt a regular exercise schedule for all housing units; offer exercise daily on both the Exercise Roof and Exercise Yard from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.; increase the number of medical staff, including registered nurses on site 24 hours per day and licensed mental health staff 7 days per week; have registered nurses at intake health screenings for new inmates; provide timely access to inpatient medical and mental health care; adopt policies for the use of telepsychiatry; address all sick call slips within 24 hours; provide reasonable accommodations to inmates with disabilities; make a number of changes over the next 4 years to the physical structure of the Jail to improve accessibility; limit placement of inmates in safety cells to 24 consecutive hours and 36 hours in any 120-hour period; create a “step-down” cell for inmates at risk of suicide; conduct suicide risk assessments on certain inmates placed in Segregated Housing; conduct daily health rounds on all inmates in Segregated Housing; and increase the amount of out-of-cell time for inmates in Segregated Housing. The Parties’ agreement also provided for the monitoring by Plaintiffs’ counsel of the County’s compliance with the ACD. The Court approved the ACD in January of 2019.
Over the next four years, Class Counsel monitored Defendants’ compliance with the ACD. Class Counsel thoroughly reviewed all documents included in Defendants’ quarterly document productions, conducted seven monitoring tours of the Jail, and corresponded with and interviewed hundreds of class members, both in person and by telephone. Class Counsel also reviewed dozens of class members’ medical and mental health records and retained an expert mental health consultant to assess the Jail’s mental health and suicide prevention systems.
Class Counsel documented their findings in a series of reports issued on May 28, 2020; October 9, 2020; April 5, 2021; October 26, 2021; January 5, 2022; June 8, 2022; December 2, 2022; and June 2, 2023, as well as numerous letters to Defendants asserting both individual and class-wide problems at the Jail. These reports and letters claimed, among other things, that Defendants were non-compliant with the ACD’s staffing requirements, especially with regard to mental health positions; that Defendants had a practice of cycling certain class members with severe mental illness in and out of the Jail’s safety and step-down cells for weeks or months at a time; and that numerous class members who required more intensive mental health treatment than what the Jail could provide were placed in restrictive housing at the Jail rather than being transferred to a facility capable of meeting their treatment needs. After two class members died by suicide at the Jail and another died from a Fentanyl overdose in less than one year, Class Counsel focused their efforts on the Jail’s mental health and suicide prevention systems, as well as its programs for treating the growing number of class members with substance abuse disorders.
In late 2022, the Parties entered into negotiations for a Second Amended Consent Decree (“SACD”). The core compromise at the heart of the SACD is a reduction in the number and types of issues (as compared with the ACD) in exchange for two additional years of Defendants being bound by substantial obligations relating to mental health and suicide prevention. The SACD addresses the issues Class Counsel claimed in monitoring reports, including claimed inadequacies in the Jail’s mental health and suicide prevention systems. The SACD includes all of the critical mental health provisions of the ACD—provisions that this Court already approved. The SACD covers every element of the mental health care system, from intake through discharge. A few provisions have been revised in light of the Parties’ additional knowledge of and experience with the ACD’s shortcomings. And the SACD includes a number of new provisions, discussed below, that provide additional protection to class members.
In addition, the SACD provides for the appointment of a third-party Monitor with appropriate expertise in correctional mental health and suicide prevention to monitor Defendants’ compliance with the SACD. The Monitor will draw on her expertise to assess and advise the parties and the Court on the Jail’s compliance with the SACD. To this end, the Monitor will have access to all documents relating to Defendants’ compliance with the SACD and will investigate complaints relating to Defendants’ compliance with the SACD. The Monitor will also conduct monitoring tours of the Jail every six months and will prepare monitoring reports within 30 days of each tour. By providing for a professional monitor with expertise in correctional mental health and suicide prevention, the SACD ensures that problems at the Jail will be identified quickly and that those problems can be fixed before the two-year term of the SACD ends.
The SACD provides some new relief to the class as well, including, but not limited to, provisions that will improve psychiatric care, staffing, and the overall quality of mental health treatment at the Jail; provide Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) for certain class members with substance-abuse disorders; assist class members in obtaining mental health treatment in the community following their release; provide access to tablets to class members in restrictive housing; and take affirmative steps to ensure that class members with the most serious mental illnesses receive inpatient care rather than remaining in restrictive housing.