Unfit for trial, but fit for Sacramento County's jail

New program will allow mentally ill defendants to receive treatment while incarcerated

The supply of mentally incompetent inmates in Sacramento County's primary jail is primed to grow.

In June, the sheriff's department inked a $2.1 million contract with the state that allows it to treat felony defendants in its Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center who are found mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Before, felony defendants who were deemed unfit to participate in their own defense were put on a waiting list to receive treatment at a state psychiatric hospital, where the aim is to “restore” their mental competency so they can understand their legal situation and participate in their defense. But a lack of space meant these individuals languished in jail waiting for beds to open up.

The officials behind this agreement think that, by allowing staff inside the Elk Grove custodial facility to treat these individuals directly, the defendants will ultimately spend less time in pretrial custody.

But it's also good for the sheriff’s bottom line.

Under the revenue agreement with the California Department of State Hospitals, which goes into effect August 1, the state will pay the sheriff's department a $377 daily per diem for each of the 16 beds dedicated to this program—whether they're occupied or not.

After accounting for additional expenditures of about $1.5 million—including more than $1 million to UC Davis Health Services to provide that care—the department is expected to clear almost $613,000 to keep mentally incompetent defendants in-house, according to county budget documents.

On July 14, county supervisors approved an agreement between the sheriff's department and UC Davis. A staff report says the jail program will be able to provide the same level of treatment as the state, while keeping pretrial defendants closer to their family members and attorneys.

As part of the agreement, the jail's Correctional Health Services unit and UC Davis will track “admission, demographic, psychological and diagnostic information as well as the number of days required for the restoration of competency,” the staff report states.