After inspecting the County Jail one day last December, the Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury released a report on Friday that found custody staff failed to consistently follow their own procedures for booking inmates.
Specifically, the jury found the medical prescreen process — “an antiquated paper system” — is insufficient. In the past, the report says, jail custody deputies oversaw the medical intake process. But deputies only receive 24 hours of medical training each year, the report states, and they lack expertise to make medical decisions — to determine if an inmate is sick, suicidal, intoxicated, or on medication. This practice was changed in April. Now only registered nurses with Corizon Health Inc. screen inmates.
The “cooperative collaboration” between the Sheriff’s Office and Corizon “has not always existed,” the report continued. In addition, custody staff has not always followed oversight procedures to ensure Corizon employees operate in accordance with their contract. What’s more, the jury found, no checklists or guidelines exist to ensure Corizon employees perform complete evaluations. “With proper monitoring, problems can be alleviated,” the report states.
Among its recommendations, the Grand Jury called for a computerized medical record system, established procedures to be followed, and screening forms updated to reflect changes already being implemented.
Forty to 60 inmates are booked in County Jail each day, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Of those, 75 percent have substance abuse issues, and most have one or more medical problems. There is a 70 percent recidivism rate, meaning seven out of 10 reoffend and go through the screening process again. It costs $60,000 to house an inmate for a year.
In “at least one case,” the intake procedures were not followed, the jury found, and “…an inmate was released into the general population without a completed medical screening.” The report does not elaborate on the circumstances of the incident but warns of a “possible major liability” should processes fail.
Asked about the jury’s findings, Sheriff’s spokesperson Kelly Hoover said the “details of that one instance are vague, making it difficult to investigate.” She added, “It is important to understand there are more than 14,000 bookings at the main jail a year.” The Sheriff’s Office has 60 days to formally respond to the findings and recommendations. However, Hoover noted, several recommendations have been or are in the process of being implemented. She added, “The Sheriff’s Office considers any recommendation from the Grand Jury seriously.”
Though the grand jury inspects holding facilities on an annual basis, this inspection was separate. The jury does not disclose what — or who — prompts its investigations.
In February, Disability Rights California, which is mandated by the state to inspect county jails, released a highly critical 26-page report on the jail’s deteriorating infrastructure and personnel issues. Its language — there is “probable cause” that “prisoners with disabilities are subject to neglect” — was much more damning than the Grand Jury’s. At the time, Sheriff Bill Brown rejected the report, calling its use of the word “neglect” unfair and inflammatory. Attorneys with Disability Rights California continue to work with Brown and custody deputies on their practices and procedures.
Last year, Corizon came under sharp scrutiny from mental health advocates— namely Families ACT! — and the county supervisors for allegedly failing to provide prescription meds and respond to complaints in a timely manner. After several lengthy hearings, replete with fat binders of data and stats, the supervisors told Brown to eventually look into contracting with a new provider. The bids are due in August.
Earlier this year, the Sheriff’s Office instituted a grievance coordinator to review all complaints from inmates. Initially, advocates cried foul because the person Brown hired — Lt. Mark Mahurin — was a retired longtime custody staffer. They doubted he could be impartial. But two months later, advocates and the supervisors alike praised Mahurin’s early performance.
An ombudsman program, which has had difficulty with the Sheriff and his staff in the past, continues to offer weekly services. Upon request, ombuds speak with inmates through Plexiglas for about a half hour. Esther Lim, director of the ACLU’s Southern California jails project, said in an email the Santa Barbara program has “very knowledgeable” volunteers who have a working relationship with Mahurin and the command staff “where we attempt to resolve complaints we hear from the inmates” and the “office’s response to the complaints.”