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Grand Jury releases report of findings

July 16, 2012

The 2011-12 Grand Jury recently released its report on county department operations, including local jails. Photo by Mike Gervais

According to the Inyo County Grand Jury Report for 2011-12, local corrections facilities are running smoothly and a consolidated office space for county departments is a good idea.
In the report, released Thursday, the Grand Jury discusses operations at the three local corrections facilities, provides suggestions on how the District Attorney’s Office can improve operations and transparency and how Southern Inyo Hospital should handle its taxpayer funding, and provides a recommendation on the contentious Inyo County consolidated office building proposal. (Separate stories on the jury’s investigations regarding Southern Inyo Hospital and the District Attorney’s Office will appear in The Inyo Register next week.)
Each year the Grand Jury is required to tour Inyo County’s detention facilities. This year, the Grand Jury had nothing but glowing reviews for the Sheriff’s Department’s operation of Inyo County Jail.
“The sheriff and staff are to be commended for the overall appearance and upkeep of the facility, even in this time of budget constraints,” the report states. “The sheriff and staff are to be commended for their comprehensive and thorough approach to disseminating and enforcing rules and regulations … for highly efficient and sufficient staff providing for all inmates needs, including but not limited to food service hygiene and exercise, medical, educational and psychological.”
The Grand Jury also commended the Sheriff’s Department for the installation and use of a new surveillance system in the jail, but recommended a new system for monitoring inmates being held for detox be implemented, as there is currently “wide timing variations” in monitoring between shifts.
At the Inyo County Juvenile Detention Facility, the Grand Jury said there is room for improvement.
The report states Juvenile Hall is in desperate need of a new surveillance system, which should be “a number one priority when funding becomes available.”
The Grand Jury also said a recommendation from last year’s report – to provide new fencing and enclosing a salle-port in the west parking lot – has not been implemented.
“Funding for the new fence for the west parking lot needs to be found, creative solutions could be used,” the report states. “The use of county staff and donations of material and labor might be useful as shown by the construction and the use of the new greenhouse.”
The report also expresses concern about a lack of employees at Juvenile Hall.
“Staffing can still be an issue at times,” the report states. “The use of part-time employees can only be used so long. Facility operators should be commended for their dedication and resourceful use of manpower.”
In Bishop, the Grand Jury toured the Bishop Police Department, finding, as in pervious years, that the department is operating in a smaller-than-adequate facility, but takes care of operations in the best way possible.
One criticism Grand Jury members reported is that the PD has not implemented a previous Grand Jury’s suggestion to install bulletproof glass between the PD’s reception area and the dispatcher’s office.
The report does point out that arrangements have been made for acquiring the bulletproof glass.
The report also states that the department’s holding cells, which are used to hold inmates for no more than six hours at a time, are adequate and in fair shape, other than areas where occupants have chipped paint off the wall.
The jury recommended the department sand down the areas where the paint had been removed and repaint the cell.
As with the Juvenile Detention Facility, the Grand Jury expressed concerns about staffing at the PD.
“Although the Police Department is budgeted for 14 officers, the department currently only has 12 officers,” the report states. “Officers currently work 12-hour shifts and absences due to sickness and vacations are covered by overtime pay. Due to current budget constraints, it is doubtful that the additional two officers will be hired in the near future.”
Bishop Police Chief Chris Carter is currently encouraging interested residents to enroll in a reserve peace officer training course that will be held next month at Cerro Coso Community College.
Reserve officers can work part-time to help full-time officers handle some duties, freeing up time for patrols.
Carter is also asking residents for their input on a suggestion to move the Bishop Christmas parade off of Main Street to cut back on overtime hours officers accumulate to close roads for the event.
In its recommendation, the Grand Jury suggested that the city establish a capital improvement budget to ultimately relocate the PD to a larger facility.
After touring the Owens Valley Conservation Corps inmate fire camp in Round Valley, the Grand Jury said the facility is operating smoothly, but officials should begin a public awareness campaign in an effort to stop friends and family members of prisoners from smuggling contraband to inmates.
During its tour of the facility, the Grand Jury learned from staff members that there is an ongoing problem with people hiding packages for inmates to pick up while they work within the community. Inmates have been found in possession of pre-paid cell phones, tobacco and alcohol, none of which are permitted in the facility.
In its report, the Grand Jury said the camp should “try to make the public aware of contraband packages, such as signs and articles in the local papers. List all do’s and don’ts when contraband packages are found.”
Aside from touring Inyo County’s correctional facilities, the Grand Jury interviewed County Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio to seek information on his proposal to build a consolidated office building in the Bishop area.
The proposal has been contentious, with many residents and Fifth District Supervisor Richard Cervantes vocalizing strong opposition to the idea.
While Cervantes has been opposed to any effort to look into the proposal, the other four supervisors have decided to continue with a non-binding agreement that will result in a design and site plan for the building with little to no cost to the county.
If the Board of Supervisors is unhappy with the plan that is developed, it will have the opportunity to back out of discussions about the building without any repercussions.
“The county is in dire need of consolidated office space, as witnessed by members of the Grand Jury during a tour of existing offices in Bishop,” the Grand Jury Report states. “Existing offices are cramped and overcrowded with staff ‘making do’ with limited parking, no handicap access, no privacy for patients/health care providers, no storage, continuity and lack of communications between departments.”
The Grand Jury also said that some offices lack fire and alarm systems, have limited rooms for private interviews between clients and staff, or no interview rooms or privacy at all.
“The Grand Jury voted unanimously to support the consolidation proposal,” the report states. “The county needs to co-locate, to share like resources, have flexibility, continuity and communication between departments.”
Every agency that was subject to review in the Grand Jury report is required by law to respond to the report within 90 days of its release.

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