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Judge Certifies Class of California Inmates

SAN JOSE (CN) - A federal judge certified a class of inmates at the Monterey County Jail who claim the jail is unconstitutionally unsafe, overcrowded and understaffed.

In a 135-page amended complaint, lead plaintiff Jesse Hernandez and 20 other named inmates sued Monterey County, the sheriff's office and the California Forensic Medical Group, which provides medical services at the jail.

The inmates claim that the jail houses 1,100 prisoners - more than 33 percent above its rated capacity.

The inmates make numerous claims about the inadequacies of the jail's safety infrastructure, its medical and mental health care and its disability accommodations.

It refers to thousands of pages of documents, including interviews with current and former inmates, inmates' medical and custody records and incident reports from the sheriff's office.

Among the issues listed are understaffed facilities that are difficult to monitor, causing regularly occurring violence; insufficient health care staff; failure to provide adequate, clean and confidential clinical spaces; failure to eliminate suicide hazards; and failure to accommodate inmates with disabilities.

In his Jan. 29 order, U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal defined the class as "all adult men and women who are now, or will be in the future, incarcerated in Monterey County Jail."

James Egar, the county's public defender, represents the plaintiffs.

"We never wanted to bring this case to begin with," Egar said in a telephone interview. "We have been making these problems known to county officials for many years and had hoped during the course of the progression of the case that it could be resolved with a federal consent decree.

"But the county has chosen to litigate rather than remediate and provide a means of enforcement."

But the Monterey County Sheriff's Office said in a statement that "plaintiffs' counsel has chosen to force the county to spend extensive resources on litigation rather than work collaboratively."

The sheriff's statement said the county has spent $8.9 million on its "Jail Housing Addition Project" and that "the county has welcomed constructive criticism on how to improve its facilities in a fiscally sound manner."

Egar said the inmates have not received the remediating plans that the county said it would provide a year and a half ago.

"Egar hope that the county will save its money and use it to remediate the problem," he said.

A trial is set for Sept. 8.

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