By Crescenzo Vellucci
The Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO, CA – The 2022-23 Sacramento County Grand jury – after condemnation of the County of Sacramento and seven cities within the county for their continuing inability to contend with the growing homelessness in the county – issued a new report Friday charging the County with violating a federal court settlement in the inhumane treatment of the incarcerated in the county’s jails.
The grand jury report’s headline says it all: “What’s Taking So Long? County Delays Mandated Jail Improvements.”
And in a news release, the grand jury said it found “Sacramento County officials failed to implement critical changes at the downtown Sacramento County Main Jail and Rio Consumnes Correctional Center (RCCC) in Elk Grove despite a major class action lawsuit settlement agreement reached more than three years ago.”
The “Mays Consent Decree,” issued in early 2020, was supposed to be a deal struck after a federal lawsuit filed in July 2018 claimed the inhumane conditions at the jails, including lack of medical and mental care and inadequate staffing, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The grand jury said it found the County has been “exceedingly slow to follow through with the agreed-upon changes at both jails.”
Grand Jury Foreperson Norvall Wellsfry, in a statement, said, “There’s really no excuse for the County and the Sheriff to slow-walk these changes. Failure to make the changes could be catastrophic. This stalling increases the risk of serious illness for jail staff and inmates and heightens the possibility of more inmate suicides.”
Wellsfry added, “Continuing to wait will cost taxpayers millions of dollars and could trigger a federal receivership where a court could appoint a neutral expert to be in control of the jails for an extended period of time.”
The grand jury noted in its statement Mays plaintiff attorneys in a letter last September to Sacramento County Board of Supervisors charged “the conditions in the jails remain deplorable.”
But, since then, according to the grand jury, nothing has been heard from the BOS other than a vague promise to “develop a plan.”
Although BOS has OK’d an annex adjacent to the main jail but not the funding, which, even when the annex funding is approved, will take at least five years to complete, added the grand jurors.
The grand jury found the County jails are facing “a much larger, more serious, and more violent inmate population,” the jail is not in “compliance with the Mays Consent Decree, and, “There are continuing ADA and HIPAA violations due to the lack of adequate health-related facilities while projects approved by the BOS are completed.”
The GJ also said, “There are interim measures that could be implemented at the Main Jail and RCCC to address Mays Consent Decree non-compliance issues while the Annex and interim projects are being designed and constructed,” and, “There are limited healthcare facilities and staffing in the Main Jail.”
Jail sanitation and related health issues are also a big concern the grand jury report said, highlighting, “The sanitation of the Main Jail and RCCC is substandard, and there are inadequate written procedures in place to ensure cleaning is effective.”
As a result of its findings, the grand jury in its report called for full funding of the Annex by July 1, 2024 by the BOS, and also approve funding for “interim measures” by December of this year.
Those measures include increasing the number of intake stations in the booking area, installation of temporary trailer(s) to reduce continuing HIPAA and ADA violations and allow for increased acute treatment and diagnostic (lab and basic imaging), and fund and construct an additional 18 mental health treatment rooms in the Main Jail.
The grand jury also added, “As long as the requirement of the Mays Consent Decree remains in place, the SSD should create a non-rotating executive leadership position (non-sworn) to oversee the Mays Consent Decree compliance at the Main Jail and RCCC.”
The BOS and Sacramento Sheriff’s Department “should develop and implement a sanitation and disinfection program at the Main Jail and RCCC in accordance with the recommendations of the EOC report,” added the GJ.
And, the grand jury made sure to point out that, by law, the BOS and Sacramento County Sheriff Jim Cooper must respond within 90 days of the report, dated March 31.
The intake expansion is necessary because, said the GJ, “During the history intake, the responses by the inmates to questions about HIV status, prior history of communicable disease, sexual orientation, and mental health issues can be heard anywhere in the room. This is a specific violation of the HIPAA requirements.”
The GJ reports notes “at least 58 inmates in restrictive housing identified as mentally ill — violating the decree. Many inmates, including those with mental illness, are denied access to the outdoor recreation yard, the report found. The jail’s restrictive housing units serve as a warehouse for people with mental health needs. Consultants fear this will result in severe and foreseeable harm to those with mental health illnesses.”
Grand jurors reported they observed sanitation issues during the site visits to the Main Jail and RCCC, many of which were violations of the Mays decree.
“At the Main Jail, inmates were seen lying on the floor in the holding cells, and the booking waiting room was overcrowded. At RCCC, mattresses were left outdoors in the Central Yard and the J/K Dorm. This could increase the risk of spreading infectious diseases among inmates and staff,” the report noted.
The grand jury report also cited an EOC report that identified “soiled floors in the Intake areas, holding areas, housing units, and medical exam areas…clogged drains and drain flies…poor and unsanitary conditions of most, if not all, of the showers…vent grilles were clogged with dust…service utility carts were filthy with old food spills and dried food debris, and other issues creating cross-contamination can often lead to foodborne-illness outbreaks, which creates another medical emergency for the facility.”