SLO County juvenile hall deals with pest problem

Report blames infestation on serving meals in youths’ rooms; official says rooms not affected

clambert@thetribunenews.comMay 20, 2012 

Youths housed at San Luis Obispo County’s juvenile hall must eat meals in their rooms, which creates mice and insect infestations, according to a report issued by the county civil grand jury.

The report also covered conditions and management of the San Luis Obispo County Jail and city and county temporary holding facilities.

After individually interviewing two youngsters and some staff at the Juvenile Services Center, members of the San Luis Obispo County civil grand jury came away with the impression that staffing shortages there prevent inmates from eating together in a common dining area, according to the report.

However, Juvenile Services Center Superintendent Gary Joralemon said the facility is fully staffed, but the kitchen was closed in 2009 for budget reasons and now meals come from the nearby County Jail. The dining area doubles as a classroom, and letting youths eat together cuts into teaching time, he said.

But Joralemon acknowledged the center had a problem with mice and occasionally ants, in part because of its location in a rural area off Highway 1. Most of the rodents were seen in the former kitchen and common areas, not individual rooms, which are swept and mopped daily by minors there.

He said bait traps were placed around the perimeter of the center after the grand jury’s visit in February.

“It’s always been important to me to give the jurors a chance to talk to kids when we’re not there,” Joralemon said. “It’s our job to confirm (what is) true. The mice were true, and we fixed it.”

Grand jurors also noted the important role that volunteers play at juvenile hall, including local churches, Cal Poly students and other groups.

Located near the County Jail off Highway 1, the Juvenile Services Center was built in 1981 and can house up to 45 minors, with the average stay being 13 days, according to the San Luis Obispo County Probation Department.

A $17.5 million plan to expand the facility is under way to add classrooms, a gymnasium, two counseling rooms, men’s and women’s locker rooms and a 15-bed treatment facility. Capacity would be increased to handle 50 inmates. Construction should start about May 2013.

Other facilities

Grand jurors also concluded something that San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office leaders likely already know — that a state law aimed at reducing overcrowding in state prisons “has exacerbated already crowded conditions at the jail, and it has resulted in a reduction of inmate services.”

About two-thirds of inmates at the County Jail take prescription medication, with about 25 percent taking psychiatric medication, according to the report. There were about 660 inmates when the grand jury visited in October 2011, but that number varies.

Health professionals at the jail expressed concern about the high cost of anti-psychotic drugs required for inmates from Atascadero State Hospital being held at County Jail, and grand jurors recommended the Sheriff’s Office aggressively pursue reimbursement for those medications from ASH.

Grand jurors interviewed seven inmates at the jail, who said that conditions and management of the jail are good compared to other state prisons and county jails they’ve reviewed.

In addition, grand jurors visited the seven police departments in the county and found “clean and safe” holding cells, though only San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles use them, because officers will typically take someone they arrest directly to County Jail for booking.

Paso Robles’ holding cell is the largest and used primarily during the annual California Mid-State Fair.

Grand jurors found the holding facility at San Luis Obispo Superior Court to be crowded, but said the cells they viewed were clean and orderly.

Jurors also noted that video equipment to monitor inmate activity is outdated; that correctional officers at the courthouse do not have easy access to restroom facilities; and inmates who use wheelchairs must enter the holding cells through public corridors.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.

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