Friday, June 17, 2016

Santa Cruz County Civil Grand Jury calls for jail improvements

SANTA CRUZ >> Security should be tightened and medical care should be improved at the Main Jail in Santa Cruz, according to a Santa Cruz County Civil Grand Jury report released Thursday.
The eight-page document detailed reports from December to February visits at the jail facilities in the county: Main Jail on Water Street in Santa Cruz, Blaine Street Women’s Jail adjacent to the main jail, Rountree Detention Facility near La Selva Beach and Juvenile Hall on Graham Hill Road near Felton. The report comes in the wake of six deaths in the Main Jail since 2012. Some of the deaths were suicides, others from pre-existing medical problems and drug detoxification.
 “The focus of our inspections was dealing with Main Jail,” said Jeff Palsgaard, foreman of the grand jury. “The grand jury recommends increased security around the Main Jail kitchen door and the area beyond,” as well as, “more detailed treatment plans and quicker medical response for at-risk inmates and a minor upgrade to one cell,” according to the report.
Because an inmate walked out a door at the Main Jail’s kitchen in July 2015 and another inmate walked out the same door in December 2015, the grand jury recommended that a fence be installed outside the door to prevent escapes.
Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart said Thursday that the Sheriff’s Office has requested money from the County Board of Supervisors to build the fence. Hart said he hoped it would be constructed in the next 12 months. Hart said that since the December “walk away,” jailers have strapped GPS ankle monitors to inmates on the kitchen crew to track them.
The inmates who escaped were “minimum security” and posed “no threat to the community,” Hart said.
Another recommendation in the grand jury report was that medically vulnerable inmates should have access to an on-call doctor within four hours rather than a maximum of 72 hours.
Hart said it would “take a reworking of the medical contract” with California Forensic Medical Group. It is the county’s private, for-profit medical provider for the jail. “If somebody is ill, we will get them to a doctor right away,” said Hart.
Medical care at the jail has come under scrutiny in recent months since the death of 23-year-old Krista DeLuca. DeLuca was arrested in September 2015 on drug charges, became extremely ill because opiate withdrawal and died there four days later, according to another Civil Grand Jury report and a civil suit. DeLuca asked to go to a hospital. That did not happen.
“We’ve been sensitive (to the case) and people are paying attention,” Hart said Thursday. “We’re not afraid to use the hospital.”
Hart said that with a Main Jail population that often tops 300, taking inmates to a hospital is nearly a daily occurrence.
The report also recommended that a Crisis Intervention Team that includes the chief correctional officer, mental health staff, medical staff and others meet daily rather than just on weekdays. The team discusses the care of “at-risk” inmates who could harm themselves or others.
Hart said it might be possible to convene a modified team with lower level staff on weekends. Hart also said that a written report about at-risk inmates is distributed to jail staff every 12 hours.
The report also recommended that a window in a jail cell be enlarged to the same size as the windows on other cell doors. Correctional officers use the windows to check on inmates. Hart said his staff would consider it.
Other parts of the report praised leaders of Juvenile Hall, Rountree and Blaine Street for their programs with inmates.
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“I think overall the report was fair and positive,” Hart said.
The Santa Cruz Civil Grand Jury investigates local governments, county facilities, special districts and schools. Seven reports have been released so far this year and the last three reports are due next week.
The reports have tackled the death of Krista DeLuca in jail, transparency problems in Soquel Union Elementary School District, problems with the County Mental Health Advisory Board, county retirement costs, civil asset forfeiture, the county Domestic Violence Commission and school safety and emergency plans.
The reports and responses are online at
Key recommendations
The Santa Cruz County Civil Grand Jury made several recommendations about Santa Cruz County Jail facilities.
Security: An inmate in 2015 escaped through a kitchen door at the Main Jail. There is a construction plan to build a fence outside the door to secure the area.
At-risk inmates: A Crisis Intervention Team that includes the chief correctional officer, mental health staff, medical staff and others meets on weekdays about at-risk inmates. The grand jury recommended that the team meet daily.
Medical care: At-risk inmates should be seen by an on-call doctor within four hours rather than a maximum of 72 hours, the grand jury recommended.
June 16, 2016
Santa Cruz Sentinel
By Stephen Baxter

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