Shortly after the county supervisors pressed Sheriff’s personnel about shortcomings of health care in the jail last week, the Ombuds program was temporarily suspended until Sheriff personnel meets with the volunteers in the near future.
The ombudsmen, who are volunteers working with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California, speak to inmates who submit a kite, or written request, for a visit on Thursday mornings. Most visits, according to volunteer James Robertson, take place in a booth, where they sit separated by Plexiglas, over a telephone and last for an average of 30 minutes. The program was reinstated earlier this year after it took a hiatus for several years for reasons that are unclear.
In an interview last week, Undersheriff Barney Melekian said he would not call the program “suspended.” Last week, the supervisors directed the department to set up a third-party grievance coordinator to oversee the process after longtime mental health advocates with Families ACT! flooded their offices with problems with medical care in the jail — provided by correctional health-care giant Corizon Health Inc. — and a dozen or so spoke during the Board of Supervisors hearing last week.
But Melekian said he could find no records from the Ombuds program. In an interview, he said he knew volunteers came into the jail every week, but he could not find anybody who heard complaints from them. “We were going to sit down and develop protocol,” Melekian said. “There’s no point in them coming in if we don’t get a chance to fix it.”
Robertson, on the other hand, argued they have had several conversations and exchanged emails with jail staff. He said it’s a mystery as to why Melekian was unaware of them. “There are prisoners who request to visit us multiple times. I don’t understand why that is so,” he went on. “Maybe they just like to talk to us.”