For the second time in a month, a report on the state of inmate mental health in San Francisco has been released － which means for the second time in a month, we can wonder if anyone at City Hall is still paying attention to the crisis happening in the County Jail system and, in turn, on city streets.
San Francisco officials last year wanted the city to invest in alternatives to incarceration instead of a new jail, and that includes much more robust mental health care services. But since the Board of Supervisors rejected funding for a new jail in December, not much has happened save for a concept paper released in mid-June and now a grand jury report on the mental health crisis among inmates.
The concept paper and report are similar, pointing out that County Jail is the top provider of mental health care services in San Francisco (in case you’re curious, that’s not a title it should hold). And despite the inmate population declining over the years, one of the concept paper authors told SF Weekly earlier this month that the number of inmates needing mental health care has not dropped. And when those inmates are finally released, many end up homeless, living on the streets.
The heart of the concept paper is a four-tiered approach to mental health care that includes a place police can take suspects for evaluation before they’re locked up, in hopes that they can receive the proper care instead of a damaging and dangerous stint behind bars. In the grand jury report, recommendations include operating Jail Behavioral Health Services 24 hours a day, along with crisis and suicide prevention training for staff who work with inmates. Suicide is, according to the report, the top cause of death among inmates across the country.
Bay City News pointed out that the city is being sued by the family of Alberto Carlos Petrolino, a 50-year-old man who died by suicide while in County Jail. Family members and defense attorneys had warned that Petrolino was suicidal, but authorities did not provide the proper care and supervision. And Petrolino was not a violent offender, having been locked up because he violated a stay-away order that prevented him from going to the Golden Gate Bridge after threatening to jump off the span.
Officials with the Sheriff’s Department, which operates County Jail, said they will review the grand jury report. They are coordinating with the jail replacement working group to come up with plans for a new project, which are expected by the end of the year.