Sacramento County Jails’ Negligence During Its Largest COVID-19 Outbreak Surfaces – No Masking & Solitary-Style Quarantines

This report is written by the Covid In-Custody Project — an independent journalism project that partners with the Davis Vanguard to bring reporting on the pandemic in California’s county jails and Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to the public eye. Refer to our website to view and download the raw data.

By Koda Slingluff & Aparna Komarla

SACRAMENTO–  On January 13, the Sacramento Sheriff’s Office released a statement addressing the largest COVID-19 outbreak at the Main Jail and Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center. “This is the first outbreak between and within the jails. Once introduced to the jail, it spreads rapidly which we have seen,” it read.

The Covid In-Custody Project has been tracking COVID-19 statistics from various County Jails since May 2020, including Sacramento’s Main Jail, Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center (RCCC), and Juvenile Detention Facility (JDF).

While cases fluctuated at the Main Jail and JDF, RCCC consistently reported no cases for 8 months. During the last week of December, this quickly jumped to 58 positive cases, and then to 159 by the first week of January. 

On Dec. 30, 55 people were transferred to RCCC from the Main Jail. This presumably introduced the virus to the RCCC population, however, the exact source is still unclear. 

The Sheriff’s Office added that, “Two other transports occurred during this period… Contact tracing resulted in large scale testing and confirmed positive inmates at the RCCC and Main Jail.”

While the timing of these additional transfers are unknown, it possibly led to the spread of the virus at the Main Jail, which reported 154 new positive cases just one week after RCCC’s outbreak. 

Currently, the Sheriff’s Office reports 192 cases at the Main Jail and 114 cases at RCCC.

While dust has yet to settle on the outbreaks, we investigated possible causes and the experiences of those at the center of it.

According to Barbara*, a loved one of a resident at RCCC’s re-entry unit (similar to a rehabilitation program), the infection rate reported by the Sheriff’s Office is vastly understated.

Barbara said that when he was initially placed in quarantine, the Sheriff’s Office was reporting no cases.

Based on the protocols listed on their website, newly booked individuals and those exposed to a positive case are placed in quarantine. Further, those who show COVID-19 symptoms while pending testing or have positive test results are also quarantined. 

It is unclear how incarcerated people could be at risk if there were in fact no cases. Since they were being quarantined without reason, many suspected that the “0 cases” count was false.

RCCC houses 3,166 people and employs over 180 Sheriff’s Office workers. It is sometimes called the “branch jail” because it branches off of CSP Sacramento. It is often used for pre-sentence detainees in order to keep the Main Jail below federal population limits

Abigail*’s loved one is incarcerated at RCCC. She told the us, “The inmates are treated very poorly and there needs to be some light shed on this situation before we end up with several deceased individuals.”

“On numerous occasions I have been to [RCCC] for visitations and have noticed none of the inmates have masks,” she continued. “Inmates were asking for sanitation or wipes to wipe down the phone areas and were not given any.”

RCCC has emphasized various programs for self-improvement, including GED education, group trauma and coping skills classes, a horsemanship training program, and even beekeeping. These valuable programs have been halted during the era of coronavirus.

“Inmates have been asking for AA and different programs to better themselves. Due to [the pandemic] that is all on hold,” said Abigail. The absence of programming and visitation, and expanded quarantines have been emotionally taxing for the men. As a result, “more fights are occurring between them.”

Maria*’s loved one is also incarcerated at RCCC. She stated that patients who went to see the psychiatrist, had to unexpectedly quarantine due to possible exposure.

“They threw him in quarantine because his psychiatrist had covid… when I called they said nobody had it,” she said. “Nobody really seems to care. Not inpatient care, [medical] staff, psychiatrist.”

“At one point, he was put in quarantine for over a week without his meds, no classes and only a phone call every 3 days.”

He was also unable to file a 602 grievance form to alert authorities of the negligence he was experiencing. “When he asked for a grievance form, the [psychiatrist] goes, ‘oops, sorry we don’t have forms for that,’” said Maria. He was not only denied basic medical attention but also the option to report it.

“Just seems like the jail/court system is not concerned one bit for these inmates, complete neglect, as well as not doing what may truly benefit the inmate for ultimate success.”

Regarding the situation at the Main Jail, the Sheriff’s Office said, “Contact tracing resulted in large scale testing and confirmed positive inmates at the RCCC and Main Jail. This is a routine part of contact tracing. The significant increase at Main Jail began on 1/7/21 when test results came in. Testing is still in process and more confirmed cases are anticipated.”

A majority of cases are reportedly asymptomatic and no hospitalizations have occurred. As more cases are likely to show up soon, loved ones and incarcerated people are anxious about how the next few weeks will unfold.

Testimonies are only one dimension of understanding the conditions in Sacramento’s jails right now.  However, they highlight broader issues of mistrust between incarcerated people and medical staff, widespread fear and anxiety regarding their health and safety, and the absence of programming and visitations that is deteriorating their mental health.

*names changed for anonymity

About The Author

The Covid In-Custody Project partners with the Davis Vanguard to report on the pandemic's impact on California's county jails and state prisons. See for more information.

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