In the wake of multiple suicide attempts, including one where authorities say an inmate successfully ended his own life, the San Luis Obispo County Jail unveiled Wednesday a new medical center that features a mental health area.
The new facility, which cost about $48 million, features two exam rooms, a mental health treatment area, a pharmacy and dental suite.
Five additional classrooms for programming are also among the features in the new addition.
"This will increase services to the inmate population, expanding from approx 2,500 square ft where med services are currently provided, to approximately 8,000 square ft in the new facility," Lt. Stephanie Landgraf said.
Perhaps one of the most important additions is the mental health center, which will allow inmates to receive help quicker than before.
Authorities said, recently, an inmate ended his own life by hanging himself in his cell, days after he was ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation. It’s unclear in court documents whether Michael Nonella ever received the evaluation.
Not long before Nonella’s death, at least two other inmates attempted suicide, according to the SLO County Sheriff’s Office.
The facility will not only help address the mental health of inmates, but their physical health as well.
"Historically, our population was serving a sentence of 365 days max so someone wouldn’t be in custody for longer than that," Landgraf said. "So preventative maintenance like teeth cleaning and checkups weren’t necessarily part of a jail situation like in prisons."
But, as Landgraf explained, inmates are spending more time than ever here in jail and the population is growing.
Deputy Tim Meinhold helped coordinate the unique facility plans with architects, who had the challenging task of designing a medical center without certain emergency escapes found in hospitals. Landgraf said the design is meant to appear more like a health facility than a corrections facility.
Meinhold said the programming rooms are an important addition.
"As far as education goes, that’s a big boon for us. we can provide a lot more services," Meinhold said. "We’re always trying to reduce recidivism. We don’t want people coming back. We love a success story."
In this next chapter, inmates at SLO County Jail should receive improved medical and mental health care beginning in just a couple of weeks.
The next phase is to take the current medical area and retrofit it to be behavioral health area in the future. Jail officials are still in the planning phase.