Department of State Hospitals – Atascadero

History | Patient Population | Hospital Staff | Treatment and Programs | Accreditation | Community | Training and Internships

Atascadero Scenery



The Department of State Hospitals-Atascadero is a secure forensic hospital located on the Central Coast of California, in San Luis Obispo County.  It opened in 1954 and is a psychiatric hospital constructed within a secure perimeter. The majority of the all-male patient population is remanded for treatment by county superior courts or by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). The hospital does not accept voluntary admissions.


Incompetent to Stand Trial (Penal Code 1370)
Felony defendants found incompetent to stand trial by a court are placed in a state hospital, where the focus of treatment is to stabilize their condition and return them to trial competency so the court may adjudicate their pending charges. Those patients who are determined to be unlikely to regain competency are returned to the court to determine future conservatorship status.

Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) Act
These patients are treated under a conservatorship agreement. Conservatorships are for severely disabled individuals who represent a danger to themselves or others due to mental illness. They have not been charged with a crime, but are instead referred by local community mental health programs through involuntary civil commitment procedures pursuant to the LPS Act. Those whose psychiatric conditions require a higher level of care and cannot be treated in locked facilities or board-and-care homes are sent to a state hospital for treatment. LPS patients leave state hospitals when their county of residence places them in a different facility, or home with their families, or they have successfully petitioned the court to remove the conservatorship.

Offenders with Mental Health Disorders (Penal Code 2962/2972)
Parolees who committed one of a specified list of crimes and who were treated for a severe mental disorder connected to their original crime can be committed to a state hospital as a condition of parole for a period not to exceed the length of their parole term. If the person still requires treatment at the end of their parole term, they can be civilly committed under P.C. 2972 if it is determined that they are a substantial danger to themselves or others. These commitments last for one year and may be renewed annually by the court.

Mentally Ill Prisoners transferred from CDCR (Penal Code 2684)
These inmate-patients are transferred from CDCR for inpatient mental health care with the expectation that they will return to a CDCR facility when they will no longer require inpatient treatment.

Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity (Penal Code 1026)
Patients judged by the court to be not guilty because they were insane at the time of the felony crime are committed to a state hospital for treatment for a period equal to the maximum sentence of their most serious offense. Their treatment goal is to control violent behaviors and develop socially responsible behavior and independent living skills, while treating their mental illness.

Sexually Violent Predators (Welfare and Institutions Code 6602 & 6604)
Individuals who are convicted of a legislatively defined set of sex offenses who complete their prison sentences are evaluated by DSH or independent evaluators. Those that meet Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) criteria receive a probable cause hearing and are placed in a state hospital pending full commitment (WIC 6602). A trial confirming SVP status can result in commitment to a state hospital for an indeterminate period (WIC 6604). SVPs can petition annually for release, be recommended for outpatient status by DSH practitioners, or be determined to no longer meet SVP criteria.


Approximately 2,140 employees work at DSH-Atascadero providing round-the-clock care, including psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, rehabilitation therapists, psychiatric technicians, registered nurses, and other clinical and administrative staff. There are approximately 173 different job classifications at the facility, including hospital police, kitchen staff, custodial staff, warehouse workers, groundskeepers, information technology staff, plant operations staff, spiritual leaders, and other clinical and administrative staff.


The Trial Competency Program is for patients admitted to the hospital under Penal Code (PC) 1370 as Incompetent to Stand Trial. These patients receive a specialized program of treatment which is specifically to help the patient gain the knowledge and skills necessary to return to court. The goal is for the patient to understand court proceedings and effectively participate in their defense.

The Offenders with Mental Health Disorders (OMD) Program is for patients paroled to the hospital by authority of the Board of Paroles under provisions of PC 2962. Patients may be released to parole, placed in Conditional Release Program, or become civilly committed.

Finally, the hospital provides mental health services to inmates from California prisons under provisions of PC 2684. The focus of treatment is to stabilize symptoms so that the inmate/patient can function successfully in the Enhanced Outpatient Program at CDCR and/or in the community.


This facility is accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. The Joint Commission conducts unannounced surveys of this hospital at least every three years. The purpose of the survey is to evaluate the hospital's compliance with nationally established Joint Commission standards. The survey results are used to determine whether accreditation should be awarded and under what conditions that happens. Joint Commission standards deal with organization quality, safety of care issues and the safety of the environment in which care is provided.


Approximately 43 percent of our employees reside in the city of Atascadero. The remainder primarily resides within a 70 mile radius.


DSH-Atascadero has a partnership with Cuesta College in order to provide advanced professional training for psychiatric technicians. The program is accredited through the Board of Vocational Nurses and Psychiatric Technicians and is one of the top training programs in California.

Finally, DSH-Atascadero offers internships for qualified candidates from universities across the state who are pursuing higher education in the fields of social work, recreation therapy, music therapy, nutrition and dietetics, and pre-doctoral psychology.