Atascadero State Hospital

Atascadero, California

BUILT: 1950s
OPERATION TIME: 1954 to present


Atascadero State Hospital, abbreviated as ASH, opened in 1954 as a state-run and self-contained forensic psychiatric center. The hospital’s patients are sentenced by the Superior Court, Board of Prison Terms, and the Department of Corrections, based on the decision of the court.

In 1998, Atascadero State Hospital won the Ernest A. Codman Award in the hospital category. The most recent patient murder was on March 30th, 2008 when 44-year old inmate Earl McKee strangled 37-year-old inmate Lawrence Rael to death with a knotted tow. Originally, McKee was sent to ASH as a “mentally disordered offender”, but was later charged as a “sexually violent predator” (SVP) when he began making abusive threats to fellow patients. The murder was taken into federal court.

Atascadero State Hospital went under renovation, and they transferred a few patients to Coalinga State Hospital. The court eventually mandated that the hospital reduce its use of restraints and medications, which made the hospital significantly more dangerous to work at without the patients under control. Due to the deaths at the hospital, Atascadero State Hospital is believed to be haunted by the spirits of those who died.

In Popular Culture

  • In the film Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Sarah Connor is sent to “Pescadero State Hospital”, a mental hospital heavily based on Atascadero State Hospital.
  • Radio host Phil Hendrie’s fictional character Herb Sewell was a former patient at Atascadero State Hospital.
  • ASH is referred to in the film The Grifters as the place where Cole is sent after his mental breakdown.




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