FROM the East Bay Times, June 24, 2019
DUBLIN — An Alameda County civil grand jury investigation that began after news of a woman who gave birth alone in a jail cell screaming for hours, and an inmate who died shortly after being released, concluded that there were “no significant issues” with the Santa Rita Jail.
The grand jury’s report, released Monday, investigated the interworkings of the county’s Santa Rita Jail located in Dublin, including inmate intake, release and grievances filed. The jury concluded that no major issues were identified, and overall found the established procedures were thorough “with an emphasis on the safety of inmates and staff.”
The grand jury began its investigation into the jail after “troubling incidents” reported in 2018. As reported by this news organization, an inmate gave birth alone inside an isolated cell in July 2017 at Santa Rita, screaming for hours for help and with nothing to wrap her baby in but her own jail jumpsuit. The woman, Candace Steel, filed a federal lawsuit against the county last year, which is pending.
The report noted that if women inmates say they are pregnant during booking into the jail, they are given priority during the intake process, without having to take a pregnancy test. The intake process can take between six to eight hours, depending on the inmate’s condition, cooperation and health needs, the report said.
According to the report, pregnant inmates are given prenatal vitamins and given about 600 more calories per day in their diet. They are also offered a denim jacket and allowed to sleep in a lower bunk. Women can also wear an orange armband to clearly indicate they are pregnant.
Deputies are trained to alert medical staff when an inmate complains about pregnancy-related complications, including cramping, the grand jury report says.
“Deputies are required to defer to medical providers regarding pregnant inmates and are never supposed to downgrade medical decisions,” according to the grand jury report.
But the report begs the question: Why didn’t that happen during Steele’s pregnancy or hours of childbirth?
The report noted that jail staff were “unable to comment on the circumstances of the inmate who gave birth in an isolation cell in 2017 due to pending litigation.” No further explanation or comment is given in the report.
At the time the lawsuit was filed in 2018, Steel’s attorney, Yolanda Huang said: “What kind of inhumanity runs that jail?”
Huang, who said Monday she had not yet seen the report, said it should have focused on issues such as in-custody deaths and the prosecution of sheriff’s deputies.
Also last year, former inmate Jessica St. Louis, 26, died just hours after being released from Santa Rita July 28, 2018, around 1:30 a.m. She was on her way to the BART station, which is two miles away from the jail, and was found dead in the station parking lot of a suspected drug overdose. While the grand jury reported noted the death, it did not elaborate or make any recommendations regarding the incident.
Grand jury forewoman Melanie Sweeney-Griffith and grand jury law and justice committee chairman Raymond Souza did not respond to requests for further explanation on the report.
The grand jury report found that in general, there is “no predetermined time frame for those being released.” Those who have completed their sentence in jail are released after 8 a.m. the day of their release.
The report noted that inmates who are released too late to make transit connections, such as BART, are allowed to stay in the lobby overnight if they do not have a ride.
St. Louis’ death sparked outrage among advocacy groups and State Sen. Nancy Skinner, who introduced legislation calling for changes to inmate release times.
Skinner also called for a comprehensive audit of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office earlier this year, joining in with other advocates, in light of the recent controversies.
Santa Rita Jail is soon to be the only jail in the county, after the sheriff’s office announced it was closing its other jail this summer, Glenn E. Dyer detention facility in Oakland to save money.
Santa Rita Jail is one of the largest jails in the nation, with the capacity to hold 3,489 inmates, booking about 60 to 100 per day. On the day it was inspected in 2018 by the grand jury, it held 2,115 inmates. The breakdown in 2018 was mostly male inmates, 89 percent, while 11 percent were female.
The jail’s 2019 budget was around $129 million, with 502 staff members; 63 percent (more than 300 people) are sworn officers. The sheriff’s office as a whole has a budget of $443 million per year.
The report found that in the jail’s intake, transfer and release department, a total of 34 percent of its sworn officers positions are filled with mandatory overtime.
“This reflects Santa Rita’s reliance throughout the jail on overtime to cover absences due to leaves, staff on loan and vacant positions,” the report says.
Santa Rita books about 60 to 100 people per day, 35 percent of whom are taken in as inmates while the remainder are cited and released.