Saturday, June 4, 2016
[San Diego County] Report calls for jail basics like hand sanitizer, recreation space
A county grand jury report issued Wednesday criticizes the sheriff’s department, saying it failed to take advantage of millions of dollars in state funding to improve jail conditions and aid inmate rehabilitation.
The missed funding opportunity stems from Assembly Bill 109, a state law that sought to relieve prison overcrowding by sending certain offenders to county jails. As a result, some inmates are serving multi-year sentences in facilities not designed to house people long-term.
The jail does offer some programs to adapt to its new role, the report says, but the sheriff’s department has no formal way to determine their effectiveness.
Though jail staff told grand jurors that officials believe in using research-based practices, “it appears there is very little systematic gathering of evidence to determine which practices are effective and deserve continuation,” the report says.
“They are trying to do re-entry projects,” grand jury forewoman Melinda Richards said in an interview with U-T Watchdog. “They just haven’t figured out what works and what doesn’t work because they haven’t figured out a way to effectively evaluate them.”
The report highlights the high number of suicides in San Diego County jails, despite efforts to better monitor at-risk inmates. The report cites a December report by U-T Watchdog that San Diego’s five suicides in 2015 — there were ultimately six by the end of the year — equaled the total number of suicides in the state’s five other largest county jail systems.
A spokeswoman for the sheriff’s department said via email that the department is “currently in the process of reviewing the grand jury report and assessing each of the recommendations. We will be responding to each in the near future.”
The civil grand jury — a government accountability panel with no role in the criminal courts —is required by law to conduct annual inspections of the county’s adult and juvenile detention facilities.
This year’s report is critical of the lack of recreational space in many of the county’s jails.
In Otay Mesa’s George Bailey Detention Facility, for instance, inmates who’ve been placed in administrative segregation are allowed out of their cells for three hours each week, which the report suggests is inadequate. Exercise space is limited to what the report describes as “small, single-unit cement areas resembling dog runs, with no equipment or shade.”
At the Central Jail in downtown San Diego, there’s no outdoor exercise space at all, just a small, enclosed concrete room with a single dip bar, according to the report.
When grand jurors asked jail staff about adding additional exercise equipment, they were told that “finding acceptable equipment was difficult.” Jurors later went online and found two companies that make exercise equipment designed specially for correctional facilities, the report says.
A similar thing happened when jurors asked about the lack of hand sanitizer in the jails to prevent the transfer of bacteria and viruses. Staff told them it’s because hand sanitizers contains alcohol. Jurors went online and found an alcohol-free hand sanitizer.
The report also looks at two practices that jurors believe, if changed, could promote good behavior: higher pay for certain inmate employees and longer family visits.
Right now, inmates who clean the jails and help with kitchen and laundry duties are paid 50 cents a day, regardless of how many hours they work or the complexity of the job. The report recommends that jails switch to “a tiered, incentive-based pay structure that promotes personal effort and achievement.”
Staying connected with family also aids in rehabilitation, the report notes. Right now, male inmates are limited to two 30-minute visits each week, behind a plexiglass partition. The report recommends that the sheriff’s department “implement, as soon as possible, weekly contact visits longer than thirty minutes for all qualifying inmates.”
Jurors also toured the county’s four juvenile detention facilities. The report criticizes the county’s longstanding practice of using pepper spray, on young detainees and questions whether staff is using it appropriately. Also controversial, the report says, is the use of 24-hour room confinement, a punishment tool that’s also considered to be counterproductive to rehabilitation.
June 1, 2016
The San Diego Union-Tribune
By Kelly Davis