Grand jury releases recommendations for SLO County Jail

Posted at 6:15 PM, May 15, 2018

The San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury has released its findings on several detention facilities, including the San Luis Obispo County Jail.

In its annual report, the grand jury visited all detention operations in the county. That includes juvenile hall and the holding cells for the county, San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, Pismo Beach and Grover Beach.

The primary purpose of the inspection was to identify possible safety problems for employees, inmates and volunteers.

Jurors wrote, "While media focus has been on the jail due to recent deaths, other facilities need to be addressed so future needs of the County are met in a timely fashion."

The most well-known of these deaths is Andrew Holland, who died shortly after being released from a restraint chair at the jail. The 33-year-old, who suffered from schizophrenia, was strapped down for 46 hours.

The biggest challenge noted in the report is the high number of mentally ill inmates in the jail system. Under California law, the county must house all inmates who have been declared incompetent to stand trial in the jail until space opens up at a treatment facility. The average wait time for a hospital bed was two to three months.

"The large population of mentally ill inmates is a major issue that has been acknowledged at the local, state, and national levels," jurors wrote.  "While initiatives, such as Stepping Up, are being supported to reduce the problem, the secondary impacts of this problem (e.g., overcrowding at the County Psychiatric Health Facility (PHF), long waits for state hospital beds, increased need to medicate inmates) have a negative effect on other County services and need to be addressed with more timely solutions." 

The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office is building a new medical center at the jail which will provide medical and mental health treatment. The counselors who work at the jail now see about 600 inmates a month. 

Jurors found that there can, at times, be a five-day wait for inmates who want to schedule an appointment and it is believed the problem is only going to get worse. 

The report indicated that the number of beds at Atascadero State Hospital was going to drop about 10 percent while the institution does some remodeling. In addition, the hospital in San Bernardino is at capacity and will accept fewer people from the jail. 

As mentioned in the document, AB109 removed the limits on how long people can be sentenced in the county jail. The average length of time spent at the SLO County Jail was 450 days. It is estimated that up to 25 percent of inmates are serving at least one-year and about one-half of the inmates are still awaiting trial.

In assessing the jail facility itself, jurors noted a couple of potential problems. Moments after entering the building, there is no metal detector in the lobby and visitors are not searched, which they say presents an unnecessary risk. They also highlighted that the jail has a number of places where the roof was leaking. 

When the grand jury began its investigation, there were nine unfilled correctional deputy positions and the employees who were there were required to work overtime to bridge the gap. 

The grand jury recommended the following changes at the jail:

  • Formulate a long-term plan to deal with the problems associated with the layout of the jail. 
  • Improve the visitation process which should include screening visitors as they enter the facility.
  • Construct a psychiatric hospital on campus or somewhere else in the county.
  • Hire more mental health workers to reduce wait times for inmate appointments.
  • Increase the staff in excess of the nine positions that were unfilled at the time of the investigation.

The grand jury also came up with recommendations for other facilities under the county umbrella, including the San Luis Obispo County Courthouse holding cell. The building has nine holding cells and six segregation cells which are used for prisoners who must be isolated from other inmates. 

Deputies transport about 50 inmates a day from the jail to the courthouse for court appearances. That’s in addition to the 10 inmates who arrive from Atascadero State Hospital. Something that would help considerably, according to the report, would be the addition of a closed-circuit TV system. That way, inmates could appear for court remotely, freeing up space, saving taxpayer money, and creating a safer working environment. Jurors also want to see more cameras installed in certain transport areas. 

The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff, Board of Supervisors, and Chief Probation Officer have until July 13 to respond to the grand jury’s report in writing. 

Read the full Grand Jury report below: