Though no one is under the impression county jails operate like a health clinic, there is disagreement about the adequacy of basic health services for Santa Barbara inmates. But the conversation about renewing the county’s contract with correctional health-care provider Corizon Health Inc. was put on ice this week after a bureaucratic mishap. As it turned out, two missing binders — filled with stats provided by the Sheriff’s Office to the supervisors — was not scandalous, but their absence did further frustrate health-care activists, who showed up to comment on poor-medical-treatment cases in County Jail.
In June, amid nationwide controversy about health care and mental-health care in jails and prisons, the supervisors were taken aback by the fact that Sheriff’s personnel provided the board with few details when they asked to renew their Corizon contract. The issue had been put on the supervisors’ radar by mental-health activists with the group Families ACT!
Since that hearing, the Sheriff’s Office turned over hundreds of pages about health services in jail, including grievances, staffing levels, and other stats. But two of the binders the Sheriff’s Office provided were given directly to the supervisors rather than to the clerk of the board to receive and file for public consumption. Therefore, the matter will return to the board in two weeks for public input and deliberations.
At that time, mental-health activists with Families ACT! will propose that the supervisors enact an independent position reporting to their board monthly to track inmate grievances, particularly those related to health care. Such a position, they believe, could help inmates fill out such forms, be attentive to possible retaliation, and advise inmates about their options under privacy laws. Undersheriff Barney Melekian said in an interview the department is very open to that idea.