Grand jury recommends more mental health staff, resources at SD County jails
More mental health clinicians and services are needed in San Diego County jails, particularly to assist a growing number of criminal defendants who are considered mentally incompetent to stand trial, according to a report released this week by the San Diego County Grand Jury.
According to the grand jury report released Wednesday, incarcerated defendants who are determined to be mentally incompetent are typically transferred to state hospitals for treatment until their competency can be restored and their criminal cases can proceed. A defendant is deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial if he or she is unable to understand the nature of the criminal proceedings or assist an attorney in their defense.
A shortage of available state hospital beds has led to a long waitlist for transfers to Department of State Hospitals treatment programs. San Diego County defendants have an average transfer wait time of five to six months, according to the grand jury's report.
In order to address the growing waitlist, a jail-based competency program — or JBCT — began operating at the San Diego Central Jail in downtown San Diego in 2017.
According to the grand jury report, the JBCT operates 30 beds at the central jail, which houses male inmates. No such program is offered at the Las Colinas jail in Santee, where female inmates are housed, so women who are found mentally incompetent must instead remain on the Department of State Hospitals waitlist until a bed becomes available.
The report states that as of Nov. 1, 2022, there were 111 male inmates who were mentally incompetent and 19 such female inmates.
Those who are not selected for the 30-bed JBCT receive "limited access to ongoing structured mental health programming" unless their "mental health status decompensates to the point they are placed in the Psychiatric Services Unit." There is a 30-bed Psychiatric Services Units at both the men's and women's jails.
Among the grand jury's recommendations was to expand the county's current JBCT program and establish a similar program for female inmates.
The report also calls for increased mental health staffing and more services for mentally incompetent inmates who are not among those selected for the JBCT program.
The report states the sheriff's department employs 27 licensed mental health clinicians and contractor NaphCare, which operates the JBCT, employs 10 more. Those clinicians serve an average daily population of 4,000 inmates, the report states.