SAN DIEGO (CNS) — The San Diego County Sheriff's Department Monday released a status report on implemented, planned and ongoing improvements to its jail system, six weeks after a state review sharply censured the agency over its record of unusually frequent inmate deaths.
The California State Auditor's analysis of in-custody fatalities at San Diego County jails, released Feb. 3, considered the Sheriff's Department's record over a recent 15-year period and its related protocols, including prevention 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 solve it.
In a prepared statement, the Sheriff's Department -- whose record of 185 deaths between 2006 and 2020 in the seven detention centers it oversees is among the highest comparable totals in the state -- asserted that its leadership "appreciates the work of the state auditors, and we embrace the findings."
"It is my goal to implement best practices that will ensure safe jails and the best health care for individuals 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 department officials, the following improvements to the local jail system are in place or underway and "align with the recommendations from the audit":
- In December, Martinez directed her staff to begin an upgrade to wireless systems at all county jails. The improvements, which "will enable connectivity among health care systems, both between the community and internally with ... medical staff in county jails," is fully funded and expected to be complete by early next year, according to the department.
- On Feb. 4, Martinez issued an order that all in-custody fatalities, including natural deaths, be reviewed internally by the department's Critical Incident Review Board, and directed that the resulting findings be made public. Those processes are slated to be in effect "in the near future," the department stated.
- On Feb. 14, Martinez and Citizen's Law Enforcement Review Board Executive Director Paul Parker signed a memorandum of understanding allowing a CLERB staff officer to respond to scenes of in-custody deaths and deputy- involved shootings that result in fatalities.
- On Feb. 25, sheriff's officials began a pilot program that equipped all deputies at Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility in Santee with uniform-worn video cameras. The program eventually will be underway at all the county's jails as a means to "increase transparency and help to de-escalate interactions between deputies and those in our custody," according to the department.
Additionally, the agency plans to implement improved "hands on" medical and mental health screenings for all inmates as they are admitted to county jails. The assessments "will ensure proper identification of health needs and include follow-up care in a timely manner," according to sheriff's officials.
Also, a new "medication assisted" treatment program for inmates with substance-abuse problems is in operation and expected to expand, and much- needed improvements to George Bailey Detention Facility have been fully funded and approved by the county Board of Supervisors, the department said.
Sheriff's officials also are seeking to ensure that all inmate welfare checks "are completed consistently, on a timely basis and with a critical eye to the welfare and safety of the men and women in our custody," according to the agency.
"Accountability measures have been put in place to make certain all security checks are within policy and conducted in a manner that places emphasis on proof of life and the health of individuals," the department said.
To implement all the planned improvements, the department has made hiring and retention a top priority, according to sheriff's officials.
"We do not currently have enough staff to implement all the changes we want," the department said. "We are identifying ways to recruit health care workers and deputies to support our staff. Included in those hiring programs are more support, training, clear policies and proper funding of our detention programs."
The audit of San Diego-area jails was conducted at the behest of the California Joint Legislative Audit Committee after state legislators requested it last June. The study ran from July to December of last year, looking into every aspect of the Sheriff's Department's record of in-custody deaths, policies, procedures, facility maintenance and staff records, according to state officials.