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Advocates call on Alameda County to increase mental health spending, decry jail expansion

Advocates call on Alameda County to increase mental health spending, decry jail expansion
Advocates call on Alameda County to increase mental health spending, decry jail expansion 03:01

OAKLAND – Despite decreased revenues and a strained budget, mental health advocates in Alameda County are calling for a massive new investment in psychiatric treatment to try to curb the surge in mental illness.

Advocates staged a rally Tuesday morning to protest more money being spent on the county jail. 

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors is considering a budget that would send tens of millions of dollars to expand the county jail including a new psychiatric facility. But the families who deal with mental illness say they are tired of the majority of the county's mental health services coming from behind bars.

Outside the Alameda County Administration building is a memorial to the children who lost their lives from violence. Barbara Doss said her son Dejuan Armstong isn't listed there, because she said it was the county that killed him.

"You did this to my family! My family has been torn apart since this happened!" Doss said, with tears in her eyes.

She said Dejuan was in the Santa Rita Jail for a case dating back to when he was 13 years old. Body cam footage posted online shows deputies putting him in a full body restraint with a mask. A few minutes later, he passed out and died.

The incident happened in 2018 and Doss said no one has ever shown any remorse.

In the last nine years, 67 inmates have died at Santa Rita--five so far this year--and yet it is the place where most people having a mental crisis are taken.

"Unfortunately, it's the one place where they can't say no," said Glenn Turner, whose daughter suffered from severe mental illness. "So, basically, it's the garbage can of our society. And they just throw everybody in there, no matter what their circumstances."

That's why, on Tuesday, mental health advocates were protesting at the county building. Supervisors are considering a plan to spend $80 million to expand the troubled jail, including a new psychiatric facility. 

Protesters call for increased mental health spending outside the Alameda County administration building on June 13, 2023. CBS

"The facility that is being proposed for this year would not actually be a treatment facility, but be just offices to house behavioral health staff," said Joy George with a group called Restore Oakland, Inc. "That's not a solution to a problem."

The protestors said every dollar that goes to Santa Rita ends up focusing mental illness treatment at that location. They want the Board to scrap the jail expansion plan and spend that money--and more--on a full-spectrum mental health services system.

Advocates said their proposal would spend $171 million on a full range of treatment options, from acute psychiatric facilities to supportive housing for the mentally impaired.

"If there were treatment facilities for folks, if there were full-service partnerships, and staffing to make these things happen, you wouldn't see folks being criminalized, because they wouldn't be, justice wouldn't be involved in the first place," said George.

From Doss's point of view, "justice" played no part in what happened to her son.

"There's no justice," she said. "They cannot bring him back. I need somebody to be held accountable."

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