A Driver Who Knows the Potholes

The Blue Ribbon Commission, according to reports, seems to be mostly made up of activists and those in the mental health industry. While mental health is a critical component and should be represented, where is the knowledge base needed to examine the jails from the administrative point of view? A judge? No. Delores Cordell? Clearly not, her specialty is beating the bushes for complaints and making a public spectacle to promote herself. La Raza? I don’t think so, ask Mary Casillas’ children what they know about protecting people. The Sheriff knows? Yes she does, she knows where the bodies are hidden and knows how to avoid them. With no one else aware of standards and requirements at state and federal levels, she can safely drive the bus past any cliff that her career could potentially fall over.


PREA, the prison rape elimination act, is a federal law that was passed in 2003. It sets a standard for jails and prisons around the nation. PREA requires the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) to carry out a comprehensive statistical review and analysis of incidents and effects of prison rape, noting several higher at risk groups such as the mentally ill.

How many people are going to know enough to ask if the sheriff has made efforts to meet PREA standards? Or if they do ask, know enough about how to examine the history of the sheriff’s actions for true compliance? This is a subject she should know better than to have slacked on. Yet she has.

In a 2011-12 report Santa Clara Main jail was named to statistically be one of the most at risk jails in the country for inmates to encounter some form of sexual misconduct by staff. This was publicized in May 2013 by the media when this report was released. Perhaps if any one of the supervisors had exhibited any shred of intellectual curiosity, we would have started this process before people died.

PREA requires training for all guards and specialized training for investigators and mental health and medical staff. All employees are supposed to be trained to the PREA standards. PREA training is also considered a perishable skill and requires a refresher course every at minimum every 2 years.

At some point, during the process of collecting information, it was determined that the deputies at the jails did not meet the standard of training, lacked the necessary standardized knowledge and had failed to meet minimum understanding of their role in the law.

So what did the sheriff do to resolve this issue before they came back to do a re-evaluation? Training? Immediately create a 40 hour class to ensure all her people were up to standard after being determined to be one of the most at risk jails in the country? Create a training policy to prevent future failures to ensure inmate safety due to lack of training? No, no and no.

The sheriff put together a hush hush hand out that was recently passed to me from jail staff. Supervisors were told to “refresh” the deputies on the job using this hand out as an outline. No formal training, no effort to ensure standards were met for the long term. Just enough to clear the interviews scheduled to show she had improved the situation at that given moment.

Training standards aren’t that difficult to figure out, and the DoJ tends to be helpful with the process of compliance. Even going to the effort of actually creating training plans for jails like ours. The sheriff never even had to create training from scratch, just tailor it.

That was 2013, nearly 3 years ago now and that was the last “training” of personnel inside the jails on the subject since then. Sources tell me there is no policy or plan that lays out a perishable training schedule. Nearly 3 years later, with no training plan for the required refresher, deputies are out of compliance again. She knows this is a problem, having already had a jail put in the national spotlight, yet here we are again going into 2016 with no change in policy to date.

Worse yet, it’s our understanding that the correctional academy does not sufficiently cover required PREA training either. So the deputies that have started in the past 3 years likely have little idea when they’re acting contrary to the laws requirements in handling certain situations.

Given this situation and a number of other similar state and national requirements that may be out of compliance. I can’t imagine why Cortese would think for a moment it’s good idea to set up such a conflict of interest by putting the sheriff, who has acted literally as if she does not give a damn about standards, on the commission. The only thought that comes to mind is than he’s that deep in political debt to her and this is a sorry attempt to make it look like they’re avoiding allowing her to investigate herself. Her appointment gives her a direct ability to drive the investigations in the directions she desires being the “expert” and only person so far with any knowledge in jail administration — knowledge that has put us where we are today.

If you have a problem with the sheriff having a role in directing the efforts of this commission and feel that the sheriff’s appointment is little more than a blatant attempt to circumvent public concerns of agencies investigating themselves and still allowing her to be a major player in the investigation. A role that may well allow her to buffer herself from blame in situations like the PREA standards. If you agree her appointment is a violation of public trust and a conflict of interest please sign and SHARE this petition to have her removed from the commission (you can block your name from appearing on the web site using the check box at the end of the form).