Thursday, June 16, 2011

Concerns raised about women's jail and CMC by SLO county grand jury

Solutions already being sought for women’s overcrowding and CMC health facility

By Cynthia Lambert |

Overcrowding at the San Luis Obispo County women’s jail and an antiquated health facility at the California Men’s Colony were two concerns raised in a report released Wednesday by the county’s civil grand jury.

Fortunately, as grand jurors put it, both agencies are working on projects to upgrade and improve their facilities over the next three years.

The report was the culmination of visits by the grand jury to all seven of the police departments in the county, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department, CMC and county Juvenile Services Center.

Grand jurors wrote that the facilities they viewed were generally well managed, but ongoing and anticipated budget cuts have posed challenges for the cities, the county and the state to maintain programs, services and staffing levels at their facilities.

“These reductions are of particular concern where efforts to thwart antisocial, violent and criminal behavior are in jeopardy,” jurors wrote.

The grand jury also released a second report focused on alcohol and drug prevention and treatment programs available for juveniles in San Luis Obispo County.

That report found that while the number of juveniles using alcohol and drugs in the county exceeds state and federal levels, there is a wide array of services available to help those youths.

Civil grand jury reports are not legally binding and only act to inform the public and government of the issues they highlight.

Though agencies investigated by the grand jury typically must respond formally to concerns raised, in the case of these two reports they are not mandated to respond.

Inmate facilities

The county women’s jail housed 82 inmates the day grand jurors visited the facility. It was built for 43.

The county Board of Supervisors in February approved plans for a new women’s jail, which is to include 196 beds, more room for programs and classes and a new medical facility for both male and female inmates.

Supervisors were nudged forward by the prospect of a $25 million state grant for the project. The county would furnish $11 million and pick up ongoing costs after the jail is built. The colony on Highway 1 near San Luis Obispo houses about 6,500 inmates.

Grand jurors noted that the prison’s health facility is old and difficult for staff to manage. Medical records are filed as hard copies, taking up much of the facility’s storage area, and working areas have become crowded with necessary equipment, they wrote in the report.

Andrew Pitoniak, a CMC spokesman, said the current facility can serve up to 25 men seeking mental health services.

Groundbreaking has started on a mental health crisis facility that will include 50 beds, he said. Other details, including the exact cost and square footage, were not immediately available.

Juvenile programs

Grand jurors found that alcohol is the most widely used substance among youth, while marijuana is the most frequently used illegal drug among older students.

The grand jury reviewed programs coordinated through school districts, Cal Poly, law enforcement agencies and the county Probation Department.

Jurors made other observations, including:

• Juveniles facing court actions do not appear to recognize, respect or acknowledge the seriousness of the court proceedings.

• In 2007, county officials completed a state-mandated study and developed a five-year plan to use as a guide in developing prevention and treatment programs for youth and adults. But there appears to be no direct relationship between the county’s accomplishments and the plan’s expected outcomes and measurement indicators.
Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929.

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