SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - On Tuesday, community leaders called attention to concerns over the death rate in San Diego County jails.
Yusef Miller with the North County Equity and Justice Coalition told ABC 10News, “We have the highest in-custody death rate in the state compared to other counties our size.” Standing outside of the Las Colinas women's jail in Santee, they asked for further investigation.
Geneviéve Jones-Wright with Community Advocates for Just and Moral Governance added, “We strongly request the support for a state audit because up until now there has been no accountability [and] no transparency.”
Leaders pointed to the case of Elisa Serna who died at Las Colinas jail in 2019. Her attorney said on Tuesday that a wrongful death suit is still pending, which alleges that jail staff ignored the 24-year-old's obvious signs of distress.
“She started having ailments and she was neglected by the Sheriff and the medical personnel,” added Miller.
Jones-Wright told reporters, “Even if someone is guilty or if someone has been convicted of a crime, their sentence was not death and we're seeing that what's happening in our jails is effectively a death sentence.”
Miller told ABC 10News, “Some people may try to undercut us by saying [that] people die from cancer and other things. Understood. The Sheriff's Department has no responsibility for those. The ones that they do have responsibility for, like an Elisa Serna, we need to get to the bottom of.”
On Wednesday afternoon at the state capital, a Joint Legislative Audit Committee hearing on San Diego's jail deaths is scheduled to take place. Miller added, “We need to get to the bottom of this. A lot of families are suffering.”
The leaders said that they are encouraging people to email their testimony to Katie.email@example.com if they’ve lost a loved one in custody due to neglect or impropriety.
Miller said that the hearing can be listened to live at 1:30 p.m. by visiting legaudit.assembly.ca.gov/hearings.
On Tuesday afternoon, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department sent ABC 10News the following statement:
“We are aware there was a news conference today regarding the California State Assembly's Joint Legislative Audit Committee Hearing tomorrow.
The San Diego Sheriff's Department will always be committed to providing the best medical and mental health care possible to those in our custody. If there is information offered through an external audit that brings improved care for the individuals in our custody, we welcome it.
As a department, we understand the responsibility we bear in caring for the vulnerable and high-risk inmate population and the preservation of life is always our greatest mission. Our department has implemented comprehensive security, mental health, and medical screening procedures to provide the highest quality care to our population and to reduce deaths in custody. We have worked to steadily enhance our medical and mental health service delivery.
Despite the rigorous review and extensive improvements made to the medical and mental health services within our detention facilities over the last five years, our department is constantly seeking expert advice and evaluating our procedures and services to provide thorough, quality care for the in-custody population.”