Department of State Hospitals (DSH) - Atascadero: Home



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.


The hospital's mission includes providing evaluation and treatment in a safe and responsible manner, seeking innovation and excellence in hospital operations, across a continuum of care and settings.


The hospital is currently licensed to operate 1,275 beds. The four primary commitment categories of patients treated at DSH-Atascadero are described below.

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.

Mentally Disordered Offenders (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.

The primary patient population breakdown for DSH-Atascadero is listed below:

Patient Commitment (as of 4/1/2016) Population %

Incompetent to Stand Trial (PC 1370)



Mentally Disordered Offenders (PC 2962/2964a & 2972)



Mentally Ill Prisoners transferred from CDCR (PC 2684)



Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity (PC 1026)




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 Mentally Disordered Offender (MDO) 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.


Approximately 1,964 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.

Watch a video about what it is like to work at DSH-Atascadero


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.

DSH-Atascadero is also the regional training center for hospital police officers throughout the State of California. The State Hospital Police Academy is a 15-week intensive course where cadets gain the requisite knowledge needed to interact with our diverse forensic population. Upon graduation, students receive 17 units of college credit in criminal justice from Allan Hancock College.

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.