Forced Medications at Santa Barbara County Jail?

Mental-Health Advocates Voice Concern over New Jailhouse Strategy

Suzanne Riordan likened the county jail’s proposed strategy to something “out of a horror movie.” | Credit: Paul Wellman File

Mental-health advocates expressed alarm that mentally ill inmates in Santa Barbara County Jail could soon find themselves forcibly injected with psychotropic medications as part of a new jailhouse strategy to get them psychologically competent to assist in their own defense. At a round-table discussion on Monday hosted by the Santa Barbara Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in the County Administration Building, speakers conjured grim scenarios in which squads of six deputies ​— ​one videotaping the proceedings ​— ​would rush into inmates’ cells, hold them down, and forcibly inject them with medication.

“It looks like the scenario out of a horror movie that will traumatize them for the rest of their lives,” objected Suzanne Riordan, a longtime advocate for mentally ill inmates in County Jail. Riordan argued that inmates should be induced to accept their medications with incentives like warmer blankets or better food.

Jail commander Vincent Wasilewski took exception to the term “forced medication,” preferring “medication over objection” instead. Before it ever got to that, he stressed, medical personnel in the jail would have spent considerable time talking with inmates to achieve compliance.

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