September 23, 2023

Eighteen folks died within the San Diego County jail system in 2021, essentially the most in-custody deaths ever recorded there. Native officers expressed consternation. State representatives demanded solutions. Requires change rang out.

The following yr, one other 18 folks died in custody. San Diego County jails, which home a median of three,800 folks per day, are among the many state’s deadliest.

To this point this yr, 11 folks have died in San Diego County jails, in line with the San Diego Union-Tribune.

It’s not simply San Diego. Six California county jail programs recorded file inmate deaths in 2022, in line with California Division of Justice information relationship to 2005. Solano County was one in every of them. 5 folks died in a system that homes a median of simply 500 folks per day.

These numbers are alarming to advocates for incarcerated folks and for state lawmakers who’ve struggled to undertake a statewide response to the deaths. Domestically elected sheriffs handle jails, they usually report back to the county boards of supervisors that set their budgets.

Now a invoice written by a strong legislator from San Diego might upend California’s county jail programs by placing a “detention monitor” in jails to function a form of statewide inspector basic. Senate chief Toni Atkins mentioned the invoice would pressure sheriffs to reveal extra info to the general public about in-custody deaths.

At a listening to on the invoice final month, Democrat Atkins mentioned the boards of supervisors are accountable for “settling lawsuits involving in-custody jail deaths, however have restricted authority in requiring the Sheriff’s Division to enact insurance policies to scale back in-custody deaths.”

Atkins on the listening to mentioned San Diego County has spent almost $50 million to settle in-custody dying lawsuits in simply the final 5 years.

Her invoice has two central options: the detention monitor, and a measure that will grant extra public entry to in-custody dying studies.

Predictably the plan has drawn hearth from legislation enforcement teams, who could have till the legislative session ends Sept. 14 to foyer for adjustments to the invoice.

Atkins has already revised the invoice to handle some criticism. The invoice as she initially submitted it could have gone a lot additional by authorizing counties to create their very own native departments of corrections, taking jails away from sheriffs. That plan fell aside after lobbying from legislation enforcement, Atkins mentioned, and “as an indication of excellent religion” to these teams, she changed the thought with the monitor to offer “various accountability.”

County sheriffs say the present model of the invoice would create redundant layers of oversight in a system they are saying is already sufficiently policed, particularly by an company referred to as the California Board of State and Group Corrections.

“I believe that there’s this false impression that there’s these unruly deaths which can be occurring inside our jail services,” Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux, president of the California State Sheriffs’ Affiliation, instructed CalMatters.

“However the actuality of it’s, we offer state-of-the-art medical consideration, counseling companies, social companies, psychological well being companies all up and down the state of California that’s required by the state and can be overseen by the Board of State and Group Corrections, proper? So this invoice actually turns into a reproduction of issues that basically are already in place when now we have a dying in our jail.”

Inmates on the Orange County jail in Santa Ana. Picture by Lucy Nicholson, Reuters

Boudreaux mentioned jails are unfairly blamed for deaths that will have occurred anyway amongst folks with preexisting well being situations. One other downside, he mentioned, was stopping suicides.

“You already know, we don’t ever hear the information about people who we prevented from committing suicide within the tons of,” Boudreaux mentioned. “We’ve caught many, many individuals (trying to commit) suicide and assist them, many individuals that got here in with medical situations that they might have by no means obtained medical remedy (for) out on the streets, now are receiving medical care contained in the jail.

“However the truth of the matter is, folks die. And are they dying by the hands of jail workers and sheriff’s places of work? No, that’s not what’s occurring.”

One lawyer who usually takes instances involving in-custody deaths within the Sacramento County jail system doesn’t anticipate the invoice having a lot of an impact.

“I don’t see this streamlining issues and producing a flood of, you realize, helpful info,” mentioned Mark Merin, a Sacramento lawyer.

Among the many exemptions within the invoice are that any refusal to reveal info by the jail might be challenged earlier than a decide who has entry to nonpublic info, a course of referred to as “in digicam assessment.” That, Merin mentioned, will drag out the disclosure course of for months, or longer.

Advocates argue the file variety of deaths in counties like San Diego and Solano is a disaster and sustaining the established order could be a transparent signal that jail inmates’ lives don’t matter.

In San Diego, the civilian assessment board that oversees the jail system has proposed handing over medical care to the county well being division. That may strip the duty from Sheriff Kelly Martinez.

Martinez refused to talk to CalMatters concerning the Atkins invoice, citing pending litigation.

A report commissioned by that group, the Residents’ Regulation Enforcement Evaluation Board in San Diego, discovered that “elevated danger of dying seems to be remoted to the unsentenced jail inhabitants.”

Certainly, of the 18 individuals who died in custody in San Diego County jails in 2022, 17 had been awaiting trial.

The exterior of Central Men's Jail in Santa Ana in 2016. Photo by Nick Ut, AP Photo
The outside of Central Males’s Jail in Santa Ana in 2016. Picture by Nick Ut, AP Picture