Thursday, April 26, 2012

Solano County grand jury cites prison's overtime costs

BY CATHERINE BOWEN/ CBOWEN@THEREPORTER.COM Following inspections of one of Vacaville's prisons, the Solano County grand jury reported Wednesday that more could be done to combat the issues of inmate cell phone use, high overtime costs and the lack of recreation equipment. The report of California State Prison-Solano was based on two separate visits to the prison in September and November and was part of the grand jury's responsibility to inspect the condition and management of the county's prisons. During the grand jury's visit to the medium-security prison in September, it was reportedly operating at 144 percent of its capacity, with a total of 5,200 Level II and higher-risk Level III inmates. After inspections of the facility and interviews with the warden, assistant wardens, captains and department heads, the grand jury zeroed in on the three specific areas of concern. Despite offering a variety of yard-time activities and self-help programs for inmates to assist in rehabilitation, prison staff said "there is a lack of recreational equipment for inmates' use" -- a factor they fear could lead to fights and riots when coupled with frequent lockdowns. To help address the issue, the grand jury is recommending more effective distribution of community outreach resources and that the prison tries to coordinate with the community to get the needed equipment donated. Also of concern was the amount of overtime paid to prison staff. During interviews, the grand jury learned CSP-Solano spends an estimated $40,000 on overtime weekly and around $2,200,000 per year, which could translate into 28 full-time positions. Most of the overtime was spent transporting inmates to medical appointments outside the facility -- an increasing occurrence due to the aging inmate population and instances of inmates who "engaged in various behaviors prior to incarceration that made them susceptible to major illnesses," the report stated. Each inmate transport requires a minimum of two correctional officers, which pulls custody staff from their duties, resulting in staffing shortages. Because of being understaffed, tensions within the inmate population frequently force the prison to go into lockdown. As a result, the grand jury recommends CSP-Solano reduce the transportation requirement to a contract driver and one correctional officer, rather than two. Another issue addressed was the number of cell phones smuggled into the prison to inmates by staff and others who pass through the gates. According to California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation statistics, 672 cell phones were confiscated at CSP-Solano last year. "This can be a safety issue for prisoners, staff and community because it facilitates criminal activities," according to the report. The grand jury is now following prison staff suggestions and advising that the prison implement a "managed cell phone system," which restricts unauthorized cell phone use by blocking signals within CSP-Solano's walls. Still, the grand jury said staff appear to be managing the prison well, despite budget restrictions and the prison's operation at more than maximum capacity. For more information, or to view the full report, visit Jury/GrandJuryReports20112012.html and click on the "California State Prison-Solano" report.

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