Grand Jury Report Criticizes San Diego County Jail Facilities

Sheriff’s Department recommended to update facilities, create programs to help inmates reintegrate into society, better combat jail deaths

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department has established no real way of telling if its detention facility programs are working, according to a newly-released San Diego Grand Jury report

The report released Wednesday, criticizes San Diego County’s detention facilities, all operated by the Sheriff’s Department. It goes through each facility by name, explaining what’s working and what needs improvement.

The Grand Jury details that even though the Sheriff’s Department has been provided a significant amount of state funding over the last five years, noting the department received $33 million in state funding for the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years, it has made limited changes to accommodate for the influx of inmates housed locally under California Assembly Bill 109.

AB109 was passed in 2011. It mandates people sentenced to non-serious, non-violent or non-sex offenses will serve their sentences in county jails rather than a state prison.

The Grand Jury report acknowledges the Sheriff’s Department has taken steps toward reducing recidivism in the county by improving the East Mesa Reentry Facility, expanding the Veterans Moving Forward program and increasing Incentive Based Housing.

Recidivism is used by law enforcement to categorize individuals who reoffend after having already served time for a previous crime.

The Grand Jurors explain in the report that while these changes are significant, the Sheriff’s Department struggles to produce accurate statistics on recidivism, stemming from the department as a whole having no agreed upon definition on what constitutes as recidivism.

According to the report, the Sheriff’s Department is committed to re-entry programs but the Grand Jury found most of these opportunities are only available to long-term inmates and available only in the last six months of their sentence.

Click here to read the full Grand Jury report. 

The report also describes how the Sheriff’s Department has a lack of programs available to assist an inmate’s integration into society, as well as a lack of knowing whether or not existing programs are helpful.

In the report, the Jury said it hopes a San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) study on existing programs, due to be released this year, will help fill in the knowledge gap.

According to the San Diego County Probation Department, recidivism rates among adult probationers have slightly declined since 2011. Data shows in 2015-2016, out of the 2,726 adults on probation, only 31% were convicted of a new felony or misdemeanor offense that year.

The Grand Jury report also highlighted a need for improvement in how inmate suicides and in-custody deaths are handled.

In the report, Grand Jurors said even though Central Jail and Las Colinas commanders were proactive in initiating policies and procedures centered around combatting jail suicides, the program has not been entirely successful. The report noted the number of suicides in San Diego County detention facilities are still higher than other counties in California.

NBC 7 Investigates found more than 60 people had died inside local jail facilities in the last five years and getting information about these deaths is difficult, even for the inmates’ families -- some of whom end up waiting for years to find out what happened.

Click here to see the full investigation. 

The Jail Information Management System (JIMS) or database used for maintaining inmate records is running on eleven year old software, according to jail staff who commented to jurors for the report. The staff told jurors that they have trouble sorting and retrieving information and that the software is in need of an update.

NBC 7 Investigates reached out to the Sheriff’s Department for comment on the Grand Jury’s Report. In an email, Jan Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the Department, said, “we are currently in the process of reviewing the Grand Jury report and assessing each of the recommendations made. We will be responding to each in the near future.”

The Grand Jury usually gives an agency 30 days to respond. Caldwell said the Department doesn’t anticipate taking that long to review the report.

Another area the Grand Jurors found to be lacking at local jail facilities were excercise areas. According to the report, most have very limited equipment and space. When Grand Jurors asked why equipment was not up to par, jail staff told jurors finding acceptable equipment was difficult, according to the report. The Grand Jurors disputed this point later and said such equipment can be located online.

The report compares the exercise areas at George Bailey Detention Facility, located in Otay Mesa, to cement dog runs, with no equipment or shade.

“Years spent incarcerated with little mental or physical stimulation will undoubtedly have negative consequences on long-term inmates,” the report states.

George Bailey houses special management inmates, such as sexually-violent predators, transgender and protective custody inmates.

In the report Jurors recognized the risk classification of these inmates and safety for staff at the facility but said “ was discouraging to see exercise options for inmates consisted of time alone in outside, cement cages three times a week.”

According to the report, basketball hoops have been removed from most male detention facilities, due to staff fearing inmates may injure themselves while playing. In the report Grand Jurors recommended that the County invest in proper footwear for inmates to help reduce injuries while giving inmates the opportunity for proper exercise.

Other areas highlighted in the report include:

  • Procedures for screening, placement and monitoring of detainees at the Central Jail facility’s holding cell “were obviously inadequate and need to be improved” after an inmate killed another inmate in October, 2015.
  • Detention officers could soon be equipped with body cameras, staff told grand jurors in their evaluations. A Sheriff Department committee is meeting in hopes of selecting a body camera manufacturer in the next year.
  • The Sheriff’s Department currently pays inmates working for the facilities a flat fee of $.50 a day, regardless of the inmate’s hours worked or the job’s complexity. Grand jurors recommend a tiered, incentive-based pay structure like the California Department of Correction’s state facility model to promote personal effort and achievement for inmates who work hard.
  • For inmates housed in close quarters, jurors state the transfer of bacteria and viruses is a serious problem as there are very few hand sanitizer stations accessible to inmates. Detention facility staff defended the lack of hand sanitizer with the fact that most hand sanitizers contain alcohol. The report notes that jurors were able to locate commercially available alcohol-free products that could be used in place of traditional sanitizers.
  • Policies in place for inmate family visitations are too restrictive and “counterproductive to rehabilitation and reintegration into society.” Visitation areas for female inmates at Las Colinas were said to create a feeling of normalcy and optimism, while male detention centers lack friendly family waiting areas. “Significant research shows the importance of family contact and support for inmates,” according to the report.

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