the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department Monday released a progress report on implemented, planned and ongoing improvements to its prison system, six weeks after a state review harshly censured the agency for its unusually high inmate death toll. .
The California State Auditor’s analysis of deaths in custody in San Diego County jails, released Feb. 3, reviewed the Sheriff’s Department’s recent 15-year history and related protocols, including preventive measures. The review concluded that the regional law enforcement agency had “failed to adequately prevent and respond” to the problem and called for legislative action to address it.
In a prepared statement, the department — whose record of 185 deaths between 2006 and 2020 at the seven detention centers it oversees is among the highest comparable totals in the state — said its leadership “appreciates the work of state auditors, and we embrace the results.”
“My goal is to implement best practices that will ensure safe prisons and the best health care for those in our custody,” Acting Sheriff Kelly Martinez said Monday. “Along with this, it is imperative that we create a fully staffed and safe environment for our employees.”
According to ministry officials, the following improvements to the local prison system are in place or underway and “align with audit recommendations”:
- In December, Martinez instructed his staff to begin upgrading wireless systems in all county jails. The upgrades, which “will enable connectivity between health care systems, both between the community and internally with…county jail medical staff,” are fully funded and expected to be completed early next year. , depending on the department.
- On February 4, Martinez issued an order that all deaths in custody, including natural deaths, be reviewed internally by the department’s Critical Incident Review Board and ordered that the resulting findings be released. public. These processes are expected to be in effect “in the near future,” the department said.
- On Feb. 14, Martinez and Citizen’s Law Enforcement Review Board executive director Paul Parker signed a memorandum of understanding allowing a CLERB officer to respond to scenes of in-custody deaths and shootings involving deputies that result in deaths. .
- On February 25, sheriff’s officials launched a pilot program that equipped all deputies at the Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Center in Santee with uniformed video cameras. The program will eventually be running in all county jails as a way “to increase transparency and help defuse interactions between deputies and those in our custody,” according to the department.
Additionally, the agency plans to implement enhanced medical and mental screenings for all inmates upon admission to county jails. The assessments “will ensure proper identification of health needs and include timely follow-up care,” according to sheriff officials.
In addition, a new “drug-assisted” treatment program for inmates with substance abuse problems is in place and is expected to expand, and much-needed improvements to the George Bailey Detention Center were fully funded and approved by the county board of supervisors, the department said.
Sheriff’s officials also seek to ensure that all inmate wellness checks “are carried out consistently, in a timely manner and with a critical eye to the well-being and safety of the men and women under our guard,” according to the agency.
“Accountability measures have been put in place to ensure that all security checks are in accordance with policy and carried out in a manner that emphasizes proof of life and health of individuals,” the official said. department.
To implement all of the planned improvements, the department has made hiring and retention a top priority, according to sheriff’s officials.
“We currently do not have enough staff to implement all the changes we want,” the ministry said. “We are identifying ways to recruit healthcare workers and assistants to support our staff. These hiring programs include more support, training, clear policies and adequate funding for our detention programs.
The audit of San Diego-area prisons was conducted at the request of California’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee after state lawmakers requested it last June. The study took place from July to December of last year, examining all aspects of the Sheriff’s Department’s record of deaths in custody, policies, procedures, facility maintenance and personnel records, according to state officials.