Critics say jails favor ‘tranquilizing’ prisoners over treatment options
Marin County has joined other California counties in authorizing the administration of medications to jail prisoners without their consent, the Marin Independent Journal reported.
Marin supervisors authorized the action under provisions of Senate Bill 568, which allows administering antipsychotic medications to, and without the consent of, individuals who cannot give informed consent because of their mental disorders.
“Are we going to tranquilize incarcerated people because we don’t have an adequate system in which to treat them?” asked Lisa Bennett, a critic of the Marin County Sheriff’s Office and a resident of Sausalito.
Prior to SB 568, mentally ill individuals who refused medication were placed on a waiting list for transfer to a state hospital.
“Right now that wait list is anywhere from three to six months,” said Todd Schirmer, interim director of the county’s division of behavioral health and recovery services.
At a state hospital, individuals were deemed competent after being forcefully administered medication, but they would stop taking the medication when they were back at the jail. Back at the jail, they would be found to be incompetent, noted Schirmer, “and the cycle repeats,” he added.
Pretrial diversion programs were created for people with mental disorders. But to qualify, the person must be diagnosed with one of the following: schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder or bipolar disorder, and must be a low enough risk to be allowed back into the community to attend a treatment program. There are fewer than 10 Marin incarcerated persons in the diversion program, according to the August 2022 report.
The Stepping Up Initiative was created to help people with mental illness stay out of jail. Since the county joined the Stepping Up Initiative in 2017, Schirmer has added five and a half positions to his mental health services department, which includes a supervisory position inside the jail, according to the report.
Keeping mentally ill individuals locked up in a cell “is a cruel situation to say the least,” said Marin County Public Defender David Joseph Sutton.
Sheriff’s Capt. Mark Hale said mentally ill prisoners cause disruptions in the housing units and that these cases are not only severe but also major health concerns. Mental health staff and a psychiatrist at the Marin County Jail are available 20 hours a day, seven days per week. Their efforts are supplemented by an on-call psychiatrist, the report said.
Contra Costa, Sonoma, Solano and Napa counties allow the administration of medications to the incarcerated without their consent under SB 568, the newspaper reported. San Mateo and Santa Clara coun-ties use separate facilities to administer medications, though the facilities are still located inside the jails.
San Francisco and Alameda are the only counties that administer medications in county-operated hospitals.
“If the litigation has occurred and there is an involuntary order in place, in some cases that will actually benefit some of our clients by restoring them to competency,” said Sutton.