Santa Rita Jail Refuses to Discipline Staff for Not Enforcing Social Distancing & Mask-Wearing

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By Tiffany Devlin

Davis Vanguard’s bi-weekly highlights from SRJ’s COVID-19 crisis

Overview

Over the span of two weeks and the Thanksgiving holiday, Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) reported six positive cases in the incarcerated population and nine staff/contractor cases. 

The first asymptomatic case emerged on Nov. 20. A symptomatic case reported on Nov. 24 was quickly released on Nov. 25. On Nov. 29, one positive case was resolved and another emerged. Another positive case was released on Dec. 3. 

As of Dec. 4, there are currently three active cases – two asymptomatic and one symptomatic.

There are 19 patients showing COVID-19 symptoms as of Dec. 4, who are awaiting test results and will be released individually from OPHU, HU 8A or HU 8C when cleared by medical. 

On Nov. 30, ACSO reported that a record-breaking number of 192 patients are at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. These “orange” patients are currently healthy but are medically vulnerable according to the SRJ patient color coding system outlined in their COVID-19 Outbreak Control Plan

Multiple housing units have gone under quarantine since Nov. 17. While some have been released early due to negative test results for the index cases, there are currently three housing pods from two different housing units that are still quarantined.

Jail News

Since late-May, Mike Brady, Director of Sabot Consulting (SC), has been conducting a series of inspections and spot-checks to monitor the jail’s compliance with CDC/Public Health guidelines and the progress of the implementation of previous recommendations made by Sabot.

In Brady’s Sept. 22 spot-check, he found several instances in the dayroom and kitchen where incarcerated people and staff were not complying with social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines. 

In Pod 6D, he observed approximately 25 people in the dayroom together with no social distancing. At least 10 of them were not wearing their masks properly — some were down below their noses and others were below their chins. He also observed two inmate trustees pushing carts out of a housing unit with their masks below their noses.

Brady writes that, “In both instances, the Housing Unit Deputies and [Watch Commander and Compliance Unit Sergeant] could clearly see that these inmates were not properly wearing their masks in violation of Commander Sanchez’s July 22, “Housing Unit Updated-Inmate Mask Wearing” station order, but made no effort to correct these violations as directed by the July 22, 2020 station order.”

Brady clearly recommends that staff are disciplined for not enforcing orders. He writes, “Station Orders issued by Assistant Sheriff Madigan and Commander Sanchez must be strictly enforced and staff/supervisors who fail to [enforce orders] should be disciplined.”

Despite this recommendation, no such disciplinary actions or consequences for staff have been established.

Captain Dan Brodie, head of the Internal Compliance Unit, expressed that disciplining staff or incarcerated people for not complying with mask-wearing or social distancing rules is a difficult matter. 

“The issue is that it is a tricky subject, because we do not want to take away privileges,” Brodie responded in regards to disciplining incarcerated people. He stated that the Compliance Unit performs periodic audits to check if the necessary protocols are being followed. Brodie explained that if staff are not wearing PPE, they are advised and given a warning.

The Vanguard also questioned if Sabot’s spot-checks are in-fact unannounced as advertised by the jail. In a previous article, the Vanguard featured a testimony from a currently incarcerated individual at SRJ who claimed that spot-checks by SC are not unexpected and the jail is well aware about their arrival beforehand.

Brodie claimed that spot checks conducted by the Compliance Unit and Sabot are all unexpected, adding that he audits parts of the jail himself and sends other staff members to double check the area.

It is unknown how accurate or unexpected the Compliance Unit’s spot checks are, given that it is an internal body and has no external representation.

Brodie also confirmed that Sabot Consulting is expected to continue their spot-checks at SRJ due to ongoing litigation.

The Vanguard questioned SRJ staff regarding the application of Positive Programming Credits (PPC) or time-served credits to individuals pending CDCR transfer.

Recently, the Vanguard published a story detailing how CDCR backlogs and a lack of cooperation between jails and prisons, have created delays in credits being processed and early releases for eligible individuals who are stuck in county jails.

For example, CDCR announced a PPC award of 12-weeks to offset the credits not earned due to program suspensions resulting from the pandemic. To calculate and assign this credit, CDCR has requested jail staff to send relevant documents to them, including court judgements, plea agreements, charging documents and probation reports. If an individual is eligible, CDCR assigns a CDCR identification number to them, and calculates their release date. The release date is to be sent to the county jail and provided to the individual. 

Captain Brodie asserted that the jail is cooperating with CDCR to the full extent. Of the 155 people pending transfer to state facilities, 3-4 individuals were released this year as a result of their credits being processed. Since CDCR calculates and assigns release dates, the jail is unaware of how many individuals of the 155 are eligible for release.

Population Report

As of Dec. 4, the jail population count is 2168 people. Over the past two weeks, the lowest population recorded was 2146 people on Nov. 18, and the highest count was 2224 people on Nov. 16.

The jail population continues to soar and is quickly reaching pre-pandemic levels that were observed in March.

In Sabot Consulting’s third spot-check , Mike Brady recommended that SRJ reduce its population to mitigate the virus’ spread.

“… I continue to be very concerned about the steady rise in the SRJ population and in my expert opinion, the ACSO needs to contact the Sheriff’s Association, CDCR, and the Federal Court and demand that CDCR remove the new CDCR commitments as one way of reducing the inmate population numbers.” Brady wrote. 

Undersheriff Richard Lucia claimed to have spoken with Sheriff Gregory Ahern and other sheriffs in the state about this issue. He added that Fresno County had over 400 individuals in their custody who are pending CDCR transfer.

“We tried to send one inmate to CDCR last week, a very problematic individual… and they refused to take one inmate from us. It isn’t like we’re not trying, the deal is that [CDCR] is not taking them.” said Lucia.

In the past, the jail has admitted that decreasing the jail population is not a priority in their COVID-19 outbreak plan, despite three major outbreaks since March.

Testing Report

As of Dec. 4, there have been 5819 tests completed in the jail cumulatively.  This number, however, does not reflect the number of individuals tested since one person can be tested multiple times to monitor their condition. Since Nov. 17, approximately 375 tests have been conducted.

While orange patients and staff/contractor cases are on the rise, only 7 percent of the jail population has been tested in the past week. 

Staff Report

As of Dec. 4, there are six current positive staff/contractor cases — a total of nine cases were reported since Nov. 17. In total, there have been 66 staff/contractor cases recorded, 60 of which have recovered. During these few weeks, 6 of the recovered cases returned to work.

Staff members who test positive, have a temperature greater than 100 degrees, or are showing COVID-19 symptoms, may not enter the facility until they are symptom free at least 10 days from the onset of their symptoms.

Staff have the opportunity to self-quarantine if they are showing symptoms of illness or suspect they have come in contact with the virus. However, if staffing becomes inadequate, staff who think they may have been exposed to a COVID-19 positive person may continue to work, pending a test, if asymptomatic.

There is no mandatory testing or surveillance testing in place for staff. Testing is purely voluntary and symptom-based, implying that asymptomatic staff members are a serious threat to COVID-19’s spread.

There is no information available on the source of the current staff cases. Further, Jen Diaz, a Wellpath representative, stated that the Department of Public Health does all contact tracing. She added that Wellpath and the jail does not always receive the results of the contact tracing. 

Housing Report

13 housing units were quarantined within the span of two weeks. Here is a summary of quarantined units starting from Nov. 16. ACSO asserts that all releases are done after the index case tests negative. In general, the projected release data is 14-days after the unit begins quarantine.

Summary of HUs that were quarantined and released –

  • On Nov. 16, HU 7E was quarantined and released after four days on Nov. 20. 
  • On Nov. 17, HU 6 B was quarantined and released after four days on Nov. 21.
  • On Nov. 18, HU 21 D was quarantined and then released after three days on Nov. 21.
  • On Nov. 22, HU 9A was quarantined and released on Nov. 25.
  • On Nov. 23, HU 25 A, B, and C were quarantined for nearly 7 days.
  • On Nov. 25, HU 32 D, E, and F were quarantined and released on Nov. 30.
  • On Nov. 26, HU 24 A, B, and C were quarantined and released on Dec. 1.
    (These units were previously quarantined on Oct. 11)
  • On Nov. 30, HU 21 A was quarantined and released on Dec. 2.
    (These units were previously quarantined on Sept. 24)

On Nov 20. HU 32 A, B, and C were quarantined. ACSO did not provide a report for Nov. 21, so it is unknown if they were released on either Nov. 21 or Nov. 22. These units were previously quarantined on Nov. 12. It is also unknown if any housing units were quarantined on Nov. 21.

HU 24 D remains quarantined due to a patient presenting symptoms on Nov. 29. It was quarantined on Nov. 29, and the release date was extended from Dec. 14 to Dec. 16 due to another patient presenting symptoms on Dec. 1.

HU 9 B also remains quarantined due to a patient presenting symptoms on Dec. 1. It was quarantined on Dec. 1, and is projected for release on Dec. 16 unless the index case tests negative.

On Dec. 4, HU 8 D was quarantined due to a patient presenting symptoms on Dec. 3. It is scheduled for release on Dec. 18 unless the index case tests negative.

Similarly, on Dec. 4, HU 6 A was quarantined due to a patient presenting symptoms on Dec. 3. It is scheduled for release on Dec. 18 unless the index case tests negative.

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About The Author

Aparna Komarla leads the Covid In-Custody project, which partners with the Davis Vanguard to bring reporting on the pandemic's impact on county jails and CDCR to the public eye. See www.covidincustody.org for more information.

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