santa cruz main jail
Santa Cruz County Main Jail. (Tarmo Hannula/ Pajaronian file

By Alesandro Manzella

Many people who are arrested and booked into Santa Cruz County Jail not only lose their freedom, but also access to health care and mental health services.

That’s according to a report released June 11 by the Santa Cruz County Grand Jury.

Lack of staff and programs, improper usage of facilities, and mistreatment of inmates, including the mentally ill, were all found during the report.

The investigation included Jail tours of Santa Cruz County’s three Jail facilities: Rountree, Blaine Street, and the Main Jail.

The Grand Jury suggests the investigation would have benefited from inmate interviews, as it would have provided insights on jailers’ experiences. However, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office denied this, saying  It has never been done before and would set a bad precedent.

But according to Penal Code Section 916, jurors do in fact have the right to use two jurors for each individual interview with an inmate.

The Sheriff’s Public Information Officer Ashley Keehn said that the Grand Jury has several methods they can use to contact incarcerated individuals that ensure the safety and privacy of all parties involved, including using subpoenas to obtain necessary information.

The report continued mentioning the staff is “deeply dissatisfied” with the physical conditions of the jail. 

The Grand Jurors also concurred that the conditions negatively impact the mental health of both inmates and staff. Even for those in good mental health, merely being in the jail building is said to be “disturbing and stressful” according to the report.

The Main Jail houses many mentally ill inmates without a certified mental healthcare facility.

Statistics in the report show 30%-40% of those incarcerated in Santa Cruz County suffer from mental health disorders. This makes our county jails the largest mental healthcare facility in the county, the report says,

Most mentally ill inmates either obtain psychotropic medication or require them. Further information provided evidence of overmedicating patients as well.

“Mentally ill residents should be cared for in health facilities, not housed in jail”  the report stated.

The report also touched on the use of “safety cells, also known as solitary confinement.

In California, safety cells are used when inmates pose a danger to themselves or others. It is typically used for short-term confinement.

But evidence provided to the Grand Jury revealed that inmates were held in Safety Cells for days.

Procedures required by California Title 15 section 1209 and the Sheriff’s department state: “In no case shall the safety cell be used for punishment or as a substitute for Mental Health treatment.”

The Grand Jury discovered that inmates are put in Safety Cells for reasons including, but not limited to:

  • Breaking the rules.
  • Threatening to cause harm to themselves or others.
  • Having a mental health crisis.

After a Health Inspector’s report, it appeared the main concern was the misuse of the safety cell.

The ongoing issues go beyond Santa Cruz County’s Main Jail. There are staffing shortages at Rountree Jail, a medium-level jail housing medium-offenders.

Last year’s 2023 Grand Jury Jail report suggested reopening one of the two closed units at Rountree, which was previously closed for maintenance reasons. But today, it is still closed due to staffing shortages. Reopening the second unit would offer more balance between the three facilities.

The issue of required staff reaches Santa Cruz’s third facility, the Blaine Street facility for women. 

Wellpath,the premier provider for healthcare within California Jails, and through the Blaine Street Facility, is in charge of care of vulnerable patients. Recently, ten vacant positions were released by Wellpath for Blaine Street facility. The Grand Jury expressed concern about the crisis-level numbers with the high number of patients at this facility requiring assistance. Staff and the Health Inspector also expressed doubts about Wellpath’s high staff turnover since COVID-19 and that they only provide coverage for eighteen hours a day.

In response to the allegations within the report, Keehn stated: “We are currently in the process of thoroughly reviewing the report and look forward to addressing and correcting the misinformation included within it.”

The agencies that are subject to grand jury investigations are not required to make any of the suggested changes. But they are required to respond within 90 days.

Next articlePhoto story: Watsonville chase ends at levee


  1. Could It be that Santa Cruz county has a lot of criminals and the police are doing their job?

    • Please sign me up for the newsletter - Yes
      • Well it’s simple don’t like jail? Don’t break the law. Jail too harsh put them on the roadside picking up garbage. I have no patience for crybaby criminals
        That’s California! Give me a break!

        • Please sign me up for the newsletter - Yes
      • Well it’s simple don’t like jail? Don’t break the law. Jail too harsh put them on the roadside picking up garbage. I have no patience for crybaby criminals
        That’s California! Give me a break already

        • Please sign me up for the newsletter - Yes
  2. No what I know about that jail is they be giving inmate med and sharing one among the other inmates which is wrong if they prescribe the medication for One inmate it isn’t to be prescribed for all the inmates in the jail it’s supposed to be for the one they prescribed it for. They play too many games but the inmates in there they’re just not right the whole system Santa Cruz county system Court everything they need to investigate the Santa Cruz county courthouse the DA’s office because they be trying to make offers exchange for an inmate to be able to attend any kind of funerals or anything is not right. So I don’t feel that they are doing their job not professionally. I thought they went to the police academy and they showed them the way they were supposed to do their job but they don’t do it that way they do whatever way they want to.

    • Please sign me up for the newsletter - Yes
    • Wow you do have great insight on this matter. In light of your article, I hope that this is investigated by the state Deborah thank you for bringing your knowledge to light

      • Please sign me up for the newsletter - Yes
  3. Back in the eighties, mental health institutions were basically emptied, except for the worse, most dangerous criminally insane. Not one of President Reagan’s finer moments. Something like 600,000
    “patients” were released into the streets.
    Today we have approx. 45,000 held in mental institutions.
    Unfortunately, the jails are half full of mentally ill criminals. The law enforcement agencies were never designed to be treatment centers for these type of inmates.
    We need to again recognize the need for facilities designed with staff to house those inmates.
    The “decriminaliztion’ of crime by “progressive” leadership hasn’t helped anything either.

    • Please sign me up for the newsletter - Yes
      • It was Reagan who closed down the state mental hospitals and dumped all the mentally ill on the streets and into society. This GOP gov also ignored the AIDS epidemic while many died, just like Trump ignored the Covid epidemic and caused many to die needlessly.

        • Please sign me up for the newsletter - Yes
        • The only problem with your argument is that Reagan left office in 1975. Democrats have had the majority of the state senate and state house of reps since 1996. They’ve had a supermajority since 2012. We’ve had a Democrat governor since 2011. Democrats run the state and the majority of the counties and cities. If they really cared they would have reopened the mental hospitals. At what point are Democrat politicians responsible for running this state, county and our cities and we can stop blaming the 80s? I am so sick of locals blaming Trump for any issue in our cities, county or state. You can say Republicans are the problem until you’re blue in the face but there’s no republicans around here to point the finger at, everything is ran by Democrats.

          • Please sign me up for the newsletter - No
    • Democrats have had decades of majority in the state to reopen those facilities if they really cared about the issue.

      • Please sign me up for the newsletter - Yes
  4. RE: SC County Jail: I would hope the inmates would be enlisted to clean and help maintain the facilities to their satisfaction.

    • Please sign me up for the newsletter - Yes
    • The article says staff not inmates so your comment makes no sense.

      “The report continued mentioning the staff is “deeply dissatisfied” with the physical conditions of the jail.”

      • Please sign me up for the newsletter - No
    • Also there is a trustee program within the jail where inmates do provide support services specifically in regards to cleaning.

      • Please sign me up for the newsletter - No
  5. It is obvious to anyone reading the response by the Sheriff’s Public Information Officer Ashley Keehn, that the Sherriff’s office plans to do nothing to improve the situation at the jails. She referred to the grand jury report as “misinformation,” at least as reported in this article.

    • Please sign me up for the newsletter - Yes
  6. Santa Cruz Country Sheriff’s Office expect critical grand jury reports every year. It’s no wonder they grow weary of it.
    Their refusal to allow access to inmate interviews is understandable considering it’s never been done before. It is unreasonable to expect random access under these short-staffed conditions in an overpopulated facility, especially with such a high percentage of untreated mentally ill inmates.
    But that’s no excuse for the indifference projected in Deputy Keehn’s public replies.
    She openly admits “the staff is ‘deeply dissatisfied’ with the physical conditions of the jail”, so there are shared issues with the grand jury findings. Public focus on commonalities is more constructive than the dismissive “misinformation” tag we’ve all grown to detest.
    I believe our sheriff’s department does an excellent job in managing a very challenging correctional institution. I hope a little more experience and perhaps some diplomacy training will produce future public statements reflecting those higher department standards.

    • Please sign me up for the newsletter - No
  7. Do any of you personally have any experience working with and or with mental illness? Or with issues that would need intervention rather than incarceration? Because if not, you’re being rather quick to judge and showing complete ignorance and close mindedness to a very serious issue that requires change, not whatever it is you’re doling out.

    • Please sign me up for the newsletter - Yes
  8. Many more important issues to address in Santa Cruz County. Maybe some articles on responsible parenting?

    • Please sign me up for the newsletter - Yes


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here