The Napa County Grand Jury wants to make certain the proposed $128 million county jail includes enough services for inmates experiencing mental health challenges, even if that means a midstream design reevaluation.
County plans for replacing the aging downtown Napa jail with a new jail along Highway 221 are moving full speed ahead. The jail as described in a recent county presentation is to have 304 beds, plus a 28-bed medical/mental health unit. Construction is to begin in late 2020.
The 2018-19 grand jury in a report issued Monday asked the county to consider having a 32-bed section dedicated to long-term therapeutic needs of the mentally ill.
That 28-bed medical unit currently planned is to address the needs of primary medical care, the grand jury report said. It also includes accommodations for short-term treatment of inmates with mental health disorders, but doesn’t provide for long-term therapeutic mental health services, the report said.
According to the grand jury, what’s needed is another look at the county’s 2007 Adult Correctional System Master Plan, which recommended a 32-bed section of a new jail be devoted to comprehensive mental health therapeutic services.
County Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht during an April 23 Board of Supervisors update on the new jail design said that inmates with mental health challenges is one reason the county needs a new jail.
“A (1970s-era) jail that was built and was up-to-date at that moment didn’t take into account the growth of mental health people being in jail,” he said.
The question raised by the grand jury is whether the design for the new jail goes far enough in meeting mental health needs. Napa County under state law must reply to the grand jury report. The county’s answers will go the Board of Supervisors for approval at a future meeting.
Napa County issued no comment on Monday on the grand jury report.
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County Department of Corrections Director Dina Jose told the Board of Supervisors in December that the new jail will have “sufficient and appropriate space for medical and mental health needs.” A team including officials from the courts, Sheriff’s Office, jail and county Health and Human Services Agency is working with the architect on the jail design.
The grand jury cited a Carey Group study done for the county from 2004-2007. This study assessed 115 pre-and-post-sentenced inmates and found 59 percent had mental health disorders or emotional problems.
Inmates who are a threat to themselves or others pose particular challenges in the jail.
The grand jury report said that, since the current version of the Napa County Jail is not a psychiatric health facility, it cannot provide long-term therapeutic services. The wait time to transfer inmates to a psychiatric health facility can be four months or longer in part because of an acute shortage of psychiatric beds in the state.
During the time mentally ill inmates are waiting for the transfer, they are housed in the jail in a confined and isolated environment, the grand jury report said. The ideal environment is in a separate psychiatric health facility where they can receive ongoing medication evaluations and long-term psychotherapy.
The grand jury report also recommended that the county establish a joint training program for mental health counselors and correctional officers. Training would offer continuing education on topics such as sensitivity to symptoms of mental illness.
At the end of the grand jury report were commendations. The grand jury praised the jail’s mental health counselors and primary medical staff for their dedication in providing inmates access to medical and psychiatric health care services.
Also, the grand jury praised the county Department of Corrections management team for leadership and professionalism in efforts to instill high expectations to all correctional staff.