April 30, 2024
  • The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office operates two correctional facilities – the Maguire Correctional Facility and the Maple Street Correctional Center.

    Over the past several years, the number of incarcerated persons with addiction and mental illness in the Office’s care has increased.

    Approximately 70 percent of people who are booked into San Mateo County’s Maguire Correctional Facility are addicted to alcohol or drugs. Additionally, around 48 percent of people have a form of mental illness. Two-thirds of all incarcerated persons leave the facility within five days. That leaves correctional staff, on average, five days to change the course of someone’s life.

    A new approach

    San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus, who started her career in corrections, quickly recognized these ever-changing and growing needs. This was the catalyst for her in April of 2023 – just four months into her term as Sheriff – to seek out long-term solutions to help address those challenges.

    “I saw how addiction and mental illness were severely impacting the lives of those in our correctional facilities and knew we could work collaboratively to make a real impact and save lives,” said Sheriff Corpus. “In response to the needs of incarcerated persons in our care, we have now become so much more than just a correctional facility. Our facilities are now hospitals, mental health clinics, and more.”

    With Sheriff Corpus’ vision, and support from San Mateo County Health’s division of Correctional Health Services, change began. Now, one year later in April of 2024, we take a look at the programs and how they’re changing lives.

    The first step - prioritizing mental health and well-being

    The Sheriff’s Office and Correctional Health Services first set out to find a holistic approach to providing wrap around services for incarcerated persons with mental illness. The initial step was to expand the existing Behavioral Health Unit.

    Inside jail

    The unit consistently houses 50 incarcerated persons each day, is staffed with two correctional officers, one registered nurse, two mental health providers, and an on-site doctor available to assist. Together, they provide not only routine checks and care, but they also develop personalized long-term plans to incarcerated persons upon their release.

    This pre-and post-release planning often involves medication-assisted treatment to help reduce cravings and allow patients to focus on their recovery. The program also connects them with a mental health provider and transitions them into a treatment program overseen by a case manager.

    The immediate goal is to reduce violent and self-harm behaviors within the correctional facility, improving the safety and quality of life of incarcerated persons. The long-term effects of the medication and treatment approach leads to greater balance, stability, and well-being. Simply put, it provides individuals with the opportunity to gain their lives back.

    This measurable change is not only demonstrated in the numbers, but is also felt by the real-life impact. Just recently, Sheriff Corpus received a phone call from a mother of an incarcerated person at the Maguire Correctional Facility. Her son grapples with mental illness and receives care in the Behavioral Health Unit.

    “This is the first time I’ve had a real conversation with my son in five years,” she told the Sheriff.

    Expansion and evolution - making space to address alcohol and drug addiction

    While the Behavioral Health Unit was continuing to make a significant long-term impact in ways never done before, the Sheriff and those working in the space recognized a gap in service.

    With 70% of incarcerated persons being addicted to alcohol or drugs, many were being booked in while either under the influence or detoxing from those substances.

    Jail hallway

    Detoxing can be an incredibly painful and lengthy process. As your body adjusts, a person may experience symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, body aches, fever, and more – all in addition to withdrawals. Detoxing typically takes as few as 72 hours, but in some cases can last as long as seven days. Going through this painful process in custody exposed an opportunity to create safer and more humane practices.

    That’s where the Sheriff’s vision for a dedicated space to detox came to be in April of 2023, now referred to as the Medical Observation Unit.

    In this unit, like the Behavioral Health Unit, there is a dedicated team with customized resources on site and readily available to help a person go through the process ahead of them. The unit is staffed with two correctional officers, a nurse, and a mental health provider. Additionally, a doctor is on site and available to assist.

    The unit, which initially included nine beds, has continued to evolve and now houses double the people with 18 beds.

    By the Numbers

    The Behavioral Health Unit
     Since February of 2023, the Behavioral Health Unit has served 224 incarcerated persons
    • 224 of those people are men, while 63 are women
    • Of those 224 people, 99 been successful and have not re-entered the unit

    The Medical Observation Unit
    • Since April of 2023, the Medical Observation Unit has served 797 incarcerated persons
    • 670 of those people are men, while 127 are women
    • Of those 797 people, 722 have been successful and have not re-entered the unit

    Expanding resources to the community as a whole
    Narcan dispenser
    The machine allows community members with just one press of a button to receive two doses of Narcan at no cost and with no questions asked.

    In addition to caring for incarcerated persons within the correctional facilities, the Sheriff’s Office and Correctional Health Services took resources a step further with the goal of saving even more lives.

    Narcan machine
    A few examples of the community resources and support that can be accessed through the machine.

    One of those ways was to ensure everyone in the community had access to Narcan, the life-saving medication that can reverse an opioid overdose. Thanks to a grant from Health Management Associates, in March of 2024, the Sheriff’s Office and Correctional Health Services unveiled a new machine that dispenses Narcan at no cost.

    The machine, which is located in the public lobby of the Maguire Correctional Facility, dispenses two free doses of Narcan to anyone in the community who may need it.

    Not only does the machine dispense the medication, but it also provides an interactive list of community resources for substance treatment, mental health, and basic needs like clothing, food, shelter, and more. Bringing immediate life-saving treatment and long-term solutions together with one touch of the screen.

    The Sheriff’s Office has learned that it is one of the pioneers in using this type of dispending unit to provide both the medication and resources.

    These programs and their successes would not be possible without the dedicated correctional officers and Correctional Health staff who thoughtfully care for those in custody year-round.

    A few of the people behind the programs
    A few of the people behind the programs.
    Media Contact

    Gretchen Spiker
    Sheriff’s Director of Communications