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Grand Jury weighs in on Inyo’s jails, detention centers

July 16, 2014

The Bishop Police Department completed a remodel of its lobby last year, per a recommendation by the 2012-13 Grand Jury. This year’s Grand Jury Report found that the PD needs more space, more dispatchers and updated dispatch equipment. Photo by Thomas Sills

Inyo County’s detention facilities – the Inyo County Jail, Juvenile Hall, the Bishop Police Department and the Owens Valley Conservation Camp – are in good working order, according to the 2013-14 Inyo County Grand Jury.
Though each of the facilities are clean and maintained, the Grand Jury also said there is some room for improvement at each location.
Under Penal Code Section 919, the Grand Jury is charged with inspecting the conditions and management of all public prisons in the county and report its findings.
The Grand Jury Report is available to the public. Its findings are also forwarded to the Inyo County Board of Supervisors and facility managers for responses.
The annual report includes a list of findings, commendations – when appropriate – and recommendations for changes.

INYO COUNTY JAIL
The Grand Jury inspected the Inyo County Jail on Dec. 4, 2013.
The jail was built to house 96 inmates. At the time of the inspection, 72 inmates, 64 males and eight females, were housed at the facility. On average, the jail houses about 80 inmates.
“The county jail is feeling the effect of (Criminal Justice realignment) AB 109,” the Grand Jury Report states. “This bill reduces the number of prisoners in state prisons by early parole and by returning low-level felony offenders to county jails in what is called ‘realignment.’ To do so, the state has changed the legal definition of more than 500 non-violent, non-serious and non-sex offender felony crimes to provide punishment in a county jail.”
The report goes on to state that AB 109 has increased not only the number of inmates in the county jails, but also the type of inmates. “Those inmates returning from state prisons have backgrounds involving more serious crimes and gang affiliations. Those inmates usually need to be separated from local offenders to keep crime information and gang problems from being spread.”
The jury recommended that the Sheriff’s Department assess the cost of construction of single-bed cells within the next budget year so guards can separate the felony offenders from low-level local inmates.
Ultimately, the Grand Jury found that the jail was “clean and in good condition.”
The jury did say that the control panel in the “tower” – the technological center of the jail – is obsolete and replacement parts are hard to find. The jury recommended that the control panel be replaced within the next fiscal year.
Lastly, the jury said that the law library in the jail is under-utilized and recommended that Superior Court judges establish procedures requiring attorneys to meet with inmates at the jail prior to court dates. “Many times attorneys do not meet with their clients until just before trial at the courthouse, after jurors have already been summoned,” the report states. “Often trials are postponed or cancelled at the last minute because attorneys find they do not have sufficient information or because they make last-minute deals for their clients. Last-minute trial cancellations are an ongoing source of frustration for Inyo citizens. Many of these instances can be avoided by having attorneys meet with their clients at the jail prior to the trial date. The law library in the jail is the perfect location for these money- and time-saving, pre-trial meetings.”
The Grand Jury Report on the jail has been forwarded to the Board of Supervisors, Superior Court judges and Sheriff Bill Lutze, with a request for a response.

INYO COUNTY JUVENILE DETENTION FACILITY
The Grand Jury toured the Inyo County Juvenile Detention Facility in Independence on Dec. 4, 2013.
The Juvenile Hall was opened in 1995 and, at the time of the inspection, housed five local youth. In all, the Juvenile Hall can house up to 17 detainees.
The Grand Jury said that it found the facility to be in “a clean, safe condition overall” and commended staff of the Keith Bright School for its dedication and hard work to educate detainees.
The jury report does state that there are concerns about security at the facility, including unsecured employee parking and sally port, and key access to exterior doors. The jury recommended that Inyo County Probation, which runs the facility, install enclosed fencing around the sally port and employee parking area and update all exterior doors to lock with a keyless system within the next budget cycle.
The Grand Jury also pointed out that there are no storage areas for visitors’ personal belongings, and that the visiting area doors open simultaneously, “allowing the potential escape for detained juveniles.” The jury recommends that the facility have lockers installed for visitors’ belongings, and install synchronized doors and one-way, shatter-proof glass in the visitor’s area within the next year.
Finally, the jury found that surveillance in some areas in the facility is inadequate, that control panels and computers are outdated and there is a lack of trained substitutes for current staff. The jury recommended a surveillance and computer system upgrade, and that the Probation Department modify its retirement policy to allow retired law enforcement to return to part-time duty as substitute staff at the facility.
The Board of Supervisors and Probation Department have been asked to respond to the report.

BISHOP POLICE DEPARTMENT
The Grand Jury inspected the Bishop Police Department on Dec.3, 2013.
In its report, the jury commends dispatchers for “excellent service history” despite being short-handed and using outdated equipment.
The Grand Jury report states that minimal records exist regarding the history of the PD building, and notes that the department needs more space and additional emergency exits.
The Grand Jury recommended that within the next fiscal year, the Bishop Police Department and Bishop Public Works Department check the status of building codes regarding maximum occupancy and the building structure for seismic safety. It also recommended that the department take on a feasibility study for a building expansion to enlarge the interview, evidence, intake and locker rooms.
The jury also said the dispatch control panel is outdated and there is insufficient staff in dispatch. The Grand Jury recommended that the department research grants to update dispatch equipment and work with other agencies to combine efforts to alleviate the shortage of dispatch staff.

DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS & REHABILITATION OWENS VALLEY CONSERVATION CAMP

The Grand Jury toured the CDC Owens Valley Conservation Camp on Dec. 18, 2013. At the time, there were 126 inmates, comprising a full complement of five 17-man fire crews.
During the inspection, inmates gave a demonstration of fire crew “tool out,” showing how tools and equipment are distributed when on a fire call, giving jurors an idea of the training and work inmates handle.
The Grand Jury found that there are some concerns among community members about inmates from the CDC being seen in public places. The jury points out that, as part of their responsibility at the camp, some trusted inmates are charged with grocery shopping and other tasks, under the direct supervision of correctional officers. The jury recommended that the camp conduct an annual public information campaign to make the public aware of the camp and its role.
The jury also said the information campaign can inform the public about contraband issues at the facility that stem from friends and family of inmates leaving items like phones near the camp barracks.
This report was forwarded to the Conservation Camp, CalFire and the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department for consideration and a response.

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