Cleanliness at SLO County's juvenile hall has improved, civil grand jury finds

clambert@thetribunenews.comApril 23, 2013 

Steps have been taken to reduce a mice and insect problem at San Luis Obispo County’s juvenile hall, though youth housed there still eat meals in their cells, the county’s civil grand jury noted in a recently released report.

Last year’s grand jury highlighted the problem after its inspection of the facility.

This grand jury noted clean and sanitary conditions at juvenile hall, and wrote that “industrial level traps” have been placed around the perimeter of the facility, and “rooms are inspected daily for sanitation issues and are disinfected twice a week.”

Grand jurors also visited San Luis Obispo County Jail and city and county temporary holding facilities.

The grand jury — a group of 19 citizens who examine all aspects of local government and issue nonbinding reports — is required by state law to look into the condition and management of public prisons in the county.

Grand jurors found that overcrowding continues to be a problem at the county jail, in part due to a state law that aimed to reduce California’s prison population by sending certain lower-level offenders to serve time in county jails rather than prisons.

County jail housed about 100 inmates in 2012 who would have, before realignment, spent time in prison instead.

However, construction of a new women’s jail, which county officials hope to finish by March 2016, will help reduce overcrowding issues.

Grand jurors also reported they received conflicting information on the amount of contraband brought into the jail.

A “senior administrative officer” told the grand jury that the jail has minimal issues with contraband because every inmate is searched thoroughly.

However, several staff members told jurors that some women inmates are “skilled at hiding drugs in body cavities and such drugs are assumed to be taken into the jail.” Grand jurors wrote that staff members can’t touch women inmates and are only allowed to tell them to “squat and cough,” which does not effectively find hidden drugs.

Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Cipolla said correctional deputies follow the same procedures for men and women, and that strip searches and “visual cavity checks” are conducted but the deputies do not touch the inmates.

The grand jury recommended the Sheriff’s Office increase its “vigilance and strategies for contraband detection” during the jail admitting and visitation process.

Sheriff Ian Parkinson said that when he took office in January 2011, jail officials weren’t strip-searching inmates because of concerns raised by a lawsuit filed several years earlier by a woman who was arrested on a misdemeanor drug charge and strip searched at the Ventura County Jail. Parkinson reinstituted the policy at the San Luis Obispo County Jail, and assigned a K-9 unit to conduct searches for drugs.

“The reality is, short of the court saying that we can X-ray everyone who comes into custody, we can only take it to the extent of what the law allows us to, and I think we’re there,” Parkinson said. “As long as we have inmates, we will have contraband. I think it’s a matter of continued diligence.”

Crime reports are filed against inmates found with contraband; however, the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t separately track how much contraband has been found year over year.

Grand jurors also noted several issues that remain at the courthouse holding facility, but added that “financial limitations” have prevented the problems from being addressed. Such issues include outdated video equipment to monitor inmate activity and that inmates who use wheelchairs must enter the holding cells through public corridors.

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