Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Napa County responds to critical grand jury report on jail

In its response to the Napa County grand jury report on the jail and Department of Corrections, the county executive officer complains that the grand jury didn’t get the whole picture.
The grand jury failed to interview the jail’s director, Lenard Vare, said County Executive Officer Leanne Link. The interview “could have provided information that would have led to a more accurate and balanced report,” Link said.
The grand jury found that the jail was operating understaffed and with inadequate facilities. The grand jury said that the jail had a breakdown in management that has caused low morale among employees and that the jail is a dangerous environment for the people who work there and its inmates.
Although Link and the Board of Supervisors agreed with some of the jury’s findings, they said that most of the jury’s recommendations were already being adequately dealt with, including employee dissatisfaction and staffing issues.
“While instances of employee dissatisfaction have arisen during the past year resulting from a variety of factors, actions have been taken by the director to address and resolve these issues on an ongoing basis,” Link said. Although employees do work in a difficult work environment, the Corrections Department acknowledges its responsibility to create a positive and productive work environment, according to the response.
The grand jury recommended that staffing become a top priority for the jail and, in response, Link says that having sufficient staffing is already, and always is, a top priority. The county executive officer said that the jail works closely with the human relations department to advertise correctional officer positions in other states and to recruit. Challenges to recruitment and retention of jail employees are the high cost of living in Napa, changes in retirement formulas and the stressful work environment, Link says.
The jail has been consistently understaffed for at least three years and each shift operates with about half the employees that it should, according to the grand jury.
In response, Link said that some employees have left the department for jobs offering higher pay and enhanced benefits in the private sector and to accept similar positions at other law enforcement agencies. Other staff members retired after reaching 20 years of employment, she said. The department of corrections has filled vacancies and hired 35 new employees in the last three fiscal years; however, in that time, 37 employees left.
Of those new hires, 24 of them were correctional officers, according to the county’s response.
To help with recruitment and retention, the grand jury recommended that compensation and benefits for correctional officers be analyzed to determine a more effective incentive package.
According to the county’s response, a study was already conducted in April 2015 by Ralph Anderson & Associates. The county came to the conclusion that compensation for correctional officers was in line with the “board’s philosophy” to be within five percent of the median of wages paid by comparable agencies – meaning that compensation stays as is.
The jury also found that many of the correctional officers had less than five years in service. The county executive officer explained that as additional and upgraded positions were made available in recent years, the number of staff with less experience has increased. Retirement has also created additional vacancies, Link said.
Although the grand jury found that some jail policies and procedures aren’t always followed or are inconsistently applied, Link said that, while that does happen, it is being addressed.
“Often changes in procedures result from enactment of new laws and new case law,” she said. “At times, there may be delays in adoption and implementation of the changes across all teams. Frequent meetings between managers and supervisors are held to ensure that the department is consistent in how it applies changes in policies across the department.”
Due to the number of Spanish-speaking inmates who may need support services, the grand jury recommended that the jail hire a bilingual forensic mental health counselor. However, the county executive officer said that the department had a bilingual forensic mental health counselor until a few months ago when the position became vacant. In the interim, she said, when there has been a need for a bilingual mental health professional on site, the Napa County Health and Human Services Agency’s Mental Health Division has provided staff.
Link said that the full-time forensic mental health counselor position has been filled, but did not say whether or not the person in the role is bilingual. There is also an vacant half-time position available, she said.
The grand jury said that rehab programs have been discontinued to the detriment of the inmate population and the public at large.
The county executive officer agreed with the grand jury’s assessment. Because of damage to that building that occurred in the South Napa earthquake, Link said that programs had to be stopped while the facility remained in “yellow-flag” status. During this time, crews were working on repairs and “it was difficult to both supervise work crews and manage inmate movement,” she said.
Programming was available through electronic tablets and some one-on-one visits were possible, but the amount of people who could enter the jail was limited, Link said.
Napa County inmates being housed in Solano County were given full access to programs available. The removal of the jail’s yellow-tag status has been approved and steps are being take to reintegrate programs into the jail, according to the county’s response.
The county executive officer disagreed with both the jury’s recommendation to have more oversight from the Board of Supervisors as well as the recommendation that a multi-year citizen’s oversight committee be established. The Board of Supervisors agreed with Link that they already have oversight over the jail and that the jail has periodic inspections by the state.
All are in agreement that a new jail is needed, but Measure Y – the proposal to increase the sales tax by ¼ cent – was voted down at the June election. The county is now looking at alternative ways to pay for a new jail on Highway 221, south of the city of Napa.
September 6, 2016
Napa Valley Register
By Maria Sestito

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