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The Crisis of Mental Health in California Prisons During the Time of Covid-19

In 2019 nearly a third of the 72,000 people in California jails had an open mental health case. Take the case of Kaiana Aldrich, whom the LA Times recently highlighted. Ms. Aldrich had been in and out of juvenile hall half a dozen times since she was 12 years old, mostly for running away from abusive family life. Her life seemed to be one traumatic episode after the next until, at 17, she was forced into a sex trafficking ring and criminally exploited. Soon thereafter she was arrested and tried as an adult. She was sentenced to prison, where she was further abused by the guards.

Aldrich, now 25, desperately waits day after day for a response from Gov. Gavin Newsom after seeking clemency for her conviction on the basis that it was directly related to herself having been trafficked. Because of this, she has made several attempts on her life. Most recently she was reported to have slashed her throat before swallowing the razors. “I am a woman who has been through a lot of abuse in my life,” she said to a reporter shortly before, “and I want it to stop.”

Kaiana Aldrich is only one of the 30,000 inmates who have been left vulnerable because of the recent curtailing of access to mental health treatment as a result of the current pandemic, in a system ill-equipped to treat mental illness in the first place. The way a society treats its most vulnerable is perhaps the clearest statement of its value. In California, the largest mental hospital is the Los Angeles county jail. Ask any fourth grader and they will tell you this is wrong. We should be as smart as a fourth grader.

You can read more about Aldrich in the LA Times article here.