Monterey County Must Clean Up Its Jail

           SAN JOSE (CN) – A federal judge gave Monterey County 60 days to come up with a plan to improve conditions at its Salinas jail.
     U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal on Tuesday sided with inmates who claimed the county jail was unconstitutionally unsafe, overcrowded and understaffed.
     Lead plaintiff Jesse Hernandez and 20 other named inmates say the jail houses 1,100 prisoners – more than 33 percent above its rated capacity. They said the jail’s safety infrastructure, medical and mental health care and disability accommodations were inadequate.
     Grewal in January certified the class as “all adult men and women who are now, or will be in the future, incarcerated in Monterey County Jail.”
     The parties cooperated in the midst of litigation by agreeing to retain four neutral experts to evaluate whether jail inmates are adequately protected from injury and violence, and whether the jail’s system of medical care is adequate.
     The experts identified several deficiencies and hazards, including an inadequate tuberculosis screening program, conditions that put inmates at unacceptable risk of suicide, and exclusion of inmates from exercise, religious and other programs based on physical disability.
     The parties could not agree when it came to implementing the experts’ proposed solutions, prompting the inmates to seek a preliminary injunction targeting the conditions identified by the experts.
     Although Grewal was reluctant to inject the court “into decisions made in running a public facility that has served the people of Monterey County for decades,” he could not deny that the inmates and pretrial detainees have shown that their claims are likely to succeed on the merits.
     He also found that the inmates are likely to suffer irreparable harm without court intervention.
     “Absent an injunction, plaintiffs will continue to suffer serious risks from defendants’ inadequate healthcare practices: They will remain at heightened risk of contracting TB, or of their TB not being timely detected and treated. Those housed in segregation will remain at unnecessary risk of committing suicide or harming themselves. Those booked into the jail on medications are at unreasonable risk of having those medications stopped and not restarted for weeks and months,” Grewal wrote in a 44-page ruling.
     “Mobility impaired inmates will continue to be denied fresh air and exercise, as well as access to vital programs that could shorten their jail stays, for no reason other than they have a disability. And inmates who use sign language as their primary method of communication will continue to be discriminated against every time they need to communicate with staff at the jail,” the judge wrote.
     He ordered the county to devise a plan to bring its policies in line with state prison guidelines, professional health care standards, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the constitutional practices of jails and prisons around the country.
     Among other things, jail officials must update the tuberculosis screening program, remove hanging points from segregation units, update detoxification monitoring, and make all programs accessible to disabled inmates.
     The financial concerns the jail may face do not outweigh the serious risk of harm to the inmates and pretrial detainees, Grewal said.
     Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal said that most of the 16 specific issues the injunction asks the county to remedy, “have already been addressed and are in place and others are various stages of implementation.”
     County Counsel Charles McKee said that the order acknowledges the changes and improvements already made, which will be included in the implementation plan.
     “The county proposed the neutral experts who evaluated conditions in the jail and is already on record as proposing their recommendations to be implemented,” McKee said.
     In a separate order Tuesday, Grewal struck California Forensic Medical Group’s nine affirmative defenses and the county’s 16 affirmative defenses. He also denied the county’s request for a jury trial.
     “Plaintiffs do not seek monetary damages, period. Because plaintiffs seek only equitable relief in the form of a permanent injunction and declaratory relief, a jury trial simply is not available,” Grewal said.
     Eric Balaban, senior staff counsel with the ACLU National Prison Project, said, “We are very pleased on behalf of our clients and think that this order will lead to long overdue changes to critical areas in operations of the jail.
     “Grewal addressed many of the problems and we hope that the county will follow through on the judge’s order and produce a remedial plan that will address the problems. That will go a long way to reducing the threats to safety and health to both prisoners and staff.”
     Monterey County Counsel Charles McKee was unable to immediately return a request for comment.

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