Treatment of mentally ill inmates in Fresno Co. jail under scrutiny

FRESNO, Calif.

Carolyn Evans said, "Recently there's has been much publicity about the treatment of inmates with mental illnesses who are held in the Fresno County Jail."

Evans, head the County's Mental Health Board said her concerns were recently highlighted in an investigation conducted by Fresno State Journalism Students, and published in the Community Alliance Newspaper.

"Well our concerns about the jail psychiatric services is that individuals with mental illnesses are not treated appropriately in the jail and they are there primarily as a result of their mental illnesses," explained Evans.

The investigation comes in addition to a Federal Lawsuit filed by the Prison Law Office against the County Health Department, which is in charge of jail medical care. Attorney Kelly Knapp told Action News by phone from her office in Berkeley, that the physicians at the Fresno County Jail have routinely over-ruled medical experts and denied medication to inmates.

Knapp told Action News, "So for example the state hospital will diagnose somebody with schizophrenia or schizo-effective disorder or bi-polar disorder and that will be in accord with for example the Fresno Community Mental Health Hospital but the jail will say malingering, or faking."

The result she says, has been violence against other inmates, suicides.

Fresno County Board of Supervisors Chairman Henry Perea says things are changing. The former jail psychiatrist has been replaced, and the problems are being addressed.

"Theres no question our county jail by default serves as probably the largest in-patient psych unit for the mentally ill in our community which is not a good statement," said Perea. "We know we have to do better."

The Prison law office is now negotiating a settlement with Fresno County, and outside experts are in the process of analyzing the jail's medical and psychiatric treatment programs.

Carolyn Evans says the Mental Health Board is encouraged, "We are very optimistic changes will be made."

But those changes likely mean increasing the county budget for jail psychiatric services.

The federal lawsuit alleges the improper treatment of the mentally ill inmates has led to violence, and suicide in the jail. Its' also alleged inmates who were taken off their medication in jail, were released in the community and committed acts of violence.

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