Friday, July 29, 2016

[Napa County] Grand jury: Napa jail has more problems than just its building

Napa County’s jail has a lot more problems than just its damaged building, according to a recently released grand jury report on the jail and the Department of Corrections.
The grand jury found that in addition to inadequate facilities and understaffing, the jail has also suffered a breakdown in management that has caused low morale among employees. The jail is a dangerous environment for the people who work there and the inmates, the Napa County grand jury said.
The grand jury’s report, “It’s time for a change at the Napa County jail,” summarizes the living and working conditions within the jail, and makes recommendations about how to fix key issues.
Part of the jail’s overcrowding is because its capacity was reduced from 264 to 204 inmates due to damage from the August 2014 earthquake, according to the grand jury. During the jury’s visits to the jail between August 2015 and May 2016, the jail was further limited to housing only an average of 184 inmates since some inmates, like those with certain mental health issues, need to be housed alone.
The grand jury found that bedding was inadequate for inmates and that several temporary “boat beds” were being used so inmates could sleep on the floor. A cell meant to house only two people housed as many as three or more inmates, the jury said.
The earthquake damage is estimated to be repaired by May 2018, the jury said.
The jail has been consistently understaffed for at least three years and each shifts operates with about half the employees that it should, according to the jury.
“A standard shift should consist of 15 employees, but there have been times when the jail has operated with a shift of eight,” the jury said. Correctional officer staffing has been 33 percent below the ideal, with 40 percent of officers having less than five years tenure. Out of 64 correctional officer positions, 13 are vacant and eight officers are on medical leave, meaning that 21 out of 64 positions are not covered.
“This is most noticeable during the weekends when an assigned staff member’s sickness can easily leave a shift even more short-staffed because no backups are available to come in,” the jury said.
Many of the correctional officers are only using the position as a stepping stone since similar jobs, like being a sheriff’s deputy, offer earlier retirement and larger percentages of salaries as pension, the jury said.
Officers regularly work overtime and are concerned for their on-the-job safety because of the short-staffing as well as lack of training, having to deal with more inmates with mental health issues or more “serious” criminals and lingering earthquake damage, the jury said.
“There is an appearance of management style and behavior that results in employees feeling intimidated, isolated and undervalued,” the jury said.
The jury determined that correctional officers and staff at the jail suffer poor morale largely due to management issues. “The jail management has not applied policies and procedures in a fair and consistent manner,” the jury said.
Although policies and procedures are in place, they are not always followed or are inconsistently applied, the jury said. “This ranges from policies that are applied differently from shift to shift depending on the supervisor to policies that simply are not enforced, to policies that are enforced differently against different employees.”
There is also a perceived unfairness and favoritism in promotions and a fear of retaliation among employees, the jury said.
The jail only has an “acting” lieutenant of operations even though the incumbent has been on leave for more than a year, the jury said. Several other management level staff have left the jail this past year.
“The grand jury is concerned that there is a breakdown in the management of the jail, which has not been addressed,” the report said.
Napa County Department of Corrections Director Lenard Vare said that the Board of Supervisors will be making a formal response to the grand jury report.
Napa County does not comment on grand jury reports until the Board of Supervisors has reviewed the report and had a chance to respond to it, said Kristi Jourdan, public information officer for Napa County.
The issues within the jail also affect inmates, especially those needing support services. Limited psychiatric services, like prescribing and dispensing psychiatric drugs, are provided by California Forensic Medical Group, the jury said, while licensed forensic mental health counselors provide mental health counseling.
But the procedure for referring inmates to the counselors is often not strictly followed, the grand jury said. And, although there is a large population of Hispanic inmates in the jail, there is no bilingual forensic mental health counselor.
Rehabilitation and training programs have not been available at the jail since the earthquake, according to the jury. These programs are vital to making sure inmates are “content and productive” and help in decreasing recidivism. Restricted access to computer tablets, which were offered in lieu of programming, is not a good substitute for transition-oriented rehabilitation programs, the jury said.
“Despite the problems,” the jury said, “most of the staff are committed to doing the best job they can under very trying circumstances.” The Napa County Board of Supervisors should commend the correctional officers for excelling in an extremely difficult environment, the jury said.
It is the grand jury’s recommendation that the Board of Supervisors also enhance its oversight of the jail to ensure that it is operating properly. The Board should assign a senior staff person to comprehensively review the operation of the jail and to provide a written report of findings by April 1, 2017. The Board of Supervisors should establish a multi-year citizen’s oversight committee by Dec. 31, 2016 and assure that there is no retribution against staff from the committee’s findings, the jury said.
The jury also recommended that the Board hire a management consultant to work with jail leadership on operational, administrative and workforce issues.
Staffing should be made an immediate priority, including a full staff of correctional officers and a bilingual counselor, the jury said. The jury recommended that compensation and benefits for correctional officers be analyzed to determine the incentive package necessary to attract new career officers and retain existing ones.
“Although a new jail is needed, bricks and mortar alone will not solve the systematic problems,” the jury said. “Failure to immediately address the current management issues ... will likely lead to even more turmoil in the operation of the Napa County jail no matter where it is located.”
July 22, 2016
Napa Valley Register
By Maria Serstito

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