Despite complaints, grand jury report finds ‘no significant issues’ at Santa Rita Jail

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.

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.

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