Viewpoint

Notes from the grand jury on SLO County jails

May 15, 2013 

The grand jury, comprised of 19 members, is a unique body that serves as a local government watchdog. The grand jury is an official body of the Superior Court in San Luis Obispo County.

The public or local governments may agree or disagree with the findings of the grand jury, but the ability of the jury to shine a light on the operations of government is one that can only lead to better public understanding of government. It also affords an opportunity for government to bring about necessary changes.

Occasionally a report does not receive the attention the jury believes it warrants. Such is the recent 2012-13 report on county jails. The report outlined several areas in which the jury was critical of the county jail and the holding cells at the county courthouse. These critical areas were well identified by the media. However, the grand jury is also aware that most of these areas are affected by a lack of funds, and most can only be corrected with additional public funding.

The grand jury would also like to recognize many of the positive findings at the county jail, juvenile hall and local police agencies, which we believe were not adequately identified to the public. The jury found that the holding cells in local agencies were clean and safe for occupancy. Juvenile hall is building a new wing, adding cells, classrooms and a multi-purpose room. The probation department staff at juvenile hall was found to be highly professional and dedicated to its work.

The staff in the jail demonstrated the highest degree of professionalism at the management and correctional officer levels. The staff at the men and women’s Honor Farm was commended for the development of programs to reduce recidivism, as well as educational and vocational programs for Honor Farm inmates — particularly members of the Women’s Honor Farm who support the adjacent San Luis Obispo County Animal Services shelter. Also of special note is the inmate cooks who are qualifying for certified food safety manager accreditation, a skill that can be utilized outside of jail.

The grand jury also commended the volunteers at the county jail and juvenile hall, particularly Sister Theresa Harpin and her Restorative Partnership program. Her work over the years has been exemplary.

This viewpoint is not to defend any actions of the grand jury, but rather to provide a fair and balanced review of a report that cannot acknowledge and recognize individually the efforts of so many. You may agree or not with this analysis, but the grand jury wishes to assure all residents of San Luis Obispo County that they are being well served in many ways that are never known, and perhaps sometimes not appreciated.

Edward Kreins is the foreperson of the 2012/2013 San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury. Grand Jury reports may be found at http://www.slocourts.net/grand  _jury/reports.

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