County Jails Had as Few as 2 Psychiatrists for 1,500 Inmates

Following the beating death of a mentally ill inmate, Santa Clara County officials are trying to hire more psychiatrists after years of leaving the jails understaffed.

For years, the county relied on as few as two psychiatrists to treat inmates at both Elmwood and the Main Jail, which collectively house at least 1,500 inmates diagnosed with some form of mental illness.

Bay Area News Group ran a report over the weekend noting that the county had refused to raise psychiatrists’ salaries or to hire an outside contractor despite repeated warnings that a shortage of staff would lead to violent clashes between inmates and jail guards.

Now, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will ratify an agreement signed by County Executive Jeff Smith last month to pay $7.4 million on a two-year contract with Traditions Behavioral Health to fund six full-time psychiatrists.

At the same meeting, supervisors will vote on a plan to raise salaries of jail psychiatrists by 25 percent.

The county had budgeted for 4.5 full-time psychiatrists last year and 5.5 this year, but only staffed two of those positions after a retirement and resignations left the others vacant.

Meanwhile, the number of mentally ill people behind bars has exploded. About half of the county’s 3,600 inmates have been diagnosed with a mental health issue.

San Jose’s Main Jail made national headlines over the issue when three jail guards were accused of brutally beating to death 31-year-old mentally ill inmate Michael Tyree.

Correctional officers Jereh Lubrin, Matthew Farris and Rafael Rodriquez were charged with murder in connection to the incident. Days later, the council announced the formation of a blue ribbon commission to review and improve jail operations.

Jail officials acknowledged that officers lack the training to deal with the influx of mentally ill inmates. According to Bay Area News Group, only 100 of the county’s 700 correctional deputies have been trained to deal with inmates with mental illnesses.

More from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors agenda for October 20, 2015:

  • Supervisors will consider an anti-harassment ordinance to protect pedestrians and bicyclists from road rage harassment by motorists. The code would borrow from a similar ordinance passed in Sunnyvale and empower cyclists who have been victimized by motorists to sue for damages.

WHAT: Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meets
WHEN: 9am Tuesday
WHERE: County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose
INFO: Clerk of the Board, 408.299.5001

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. Better late than never. Perhaps more training for all
    of the Correctional Officers, Support Staff, and Medical Staff, mentally ill patients aren’t segregated and it can’t be guaranteed that they will only come in contact with the 100 trained COs.

    Just a question…”Blue Ribbon Committee” as opposed to what? Does the County have “Red, Green, Yellow” or some other type of designation for committees that are of lesser value?

    • The only thing that should matter is if the criminal knew what he/she did was wrong.

      If we start to move that goal post, then the whole system collapses.

  2. all health issues are a nutrition issue. to see healing to the body and to the spirit HERBS IS THE ANSWER.

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