The sheriff has said she didn’t know. She didn’t know. I’m not sure how she could not know, but this has generally been her claim. Now we know better.
We have tried very hard here to put out valid information. We talked to people. Deputies reach out to reporters, so many people have tried to get out what has been going on in the jails and enforcement (which everyone is still pretending is all fine and dandy). I can’t speak for others, but some days it felt like I was trying to convince an alternative universe we existed. Every so often though there is a gem that vindicates our voices and makes me feel like it’s not just me, my sources, and others I’m aware of reaching out by other means, seeing these problems.
One of these letters was previously mentioned in passing by the media, I didn’t dig into it to deeper at the time. Today I dug a bit deeper and I found more detail – others outside had tried to talk to the sheriff about virtually every subject we’ve tried to get several media entities to dig into after internal voices were ignored. The ironic part — it was from an organization that was on the verge of suing the sheriff for her refusal to address issues.
I came across an article published not long ago within it was a letter to Sheriff Laurie Smith from back in June iterating some of the things we’ve said here, some of the things I knew about but hadn’t put up because limited sources on the matter, and some things I hadn’t even heard yet.
“Earlier this year , [Kelly Knapp] started hearing from inmates in Santa Clara County’s main jail…” This hit the nail on the head. Many argued that there were significant changes for the poorer in the first months of the year. Sergeants were removed from investigatory/supervisory roles to supervisory roles only, with replacements never trained in the details of their new responsibilities. Then having their numbers cut by 25% to finish the damage. Staffing had already been cut by at least 28% through various means, and further reduced by another 1-2% through cuts in hours worked by staff, which created many of the problems listed in programming and other issues. The move with the sergeants just compounded the problems further.
These aren’t mental health issues, these are foundation issues. You can create whatever program you want, but if you don’t have the staffing to provide the basics, if you don’t have the training to know that you’re the one who needs to initiate, oversee, and ensure certain elements, you’ll never have a working program.
Prison Law Group points out issues like “inmates in one section of the jail…reported being denied outdoor exercise for at least seven months.” It’s noted that even prisoners in Pelican Bay get more yard time and in an environment where they can actually see the sun. But if you don’t have the staff, this is one of the things that goes by the wayside. Other things take priority in the job. Feeding inmates, medication, getting them to their court dates… it’s a big list, and while programming for outside shouldn’t be left out, if forced to prioritize your time, this is exactly what happens.
The environment in Sheriff Smith’s jails is so bad, this is how they were compared to other CA jails and prisons: “We have toured scores of jails and prisons throughout the nation,” [Don] Specter wrote in a subsequent letter, “and the conditions we observed in the Santa Clara Jail units were harsher and more punitive than most we have visited.” The letter was sent August 5, 2015. Twenty-two days later, August 27th, Michael Tyree was dead. September 28th, 32 days after Mr. Tyree’s death, Walter Roches was dead — days after being shot with an FN 303 less lethal rifle, in the upper abdomen, from a distance of only 6 to 8 feet. This may or may not be the cause of death, currently the sheriff will only tell us the death is “inconclusive” and we’re waiting for other tests. 28 days after Mr. Roches death, we have a murderer turned away at the door and told to go to San Jose PD.
The article states that Prison Law Office plans to sue the county over jail conditions. No word at this point if the creation of the blue ribbon commission belays those actions.
But this is the quote I found most relevant to our more recent arguments to not put the sheriff on the committee: “[Prison Law Office has] offered and would prefer to work cooperatively with the sheriff, but we have no choice but to pursue litigation because she won’t come to the table with us.”
This is what everyone has continued to point out. The DSA, the CPOA, other law enforcement agencies… it was even pointed out to her during the “debate” in front of the Mercury News Editorial board. The sheriff does not work with others. She has no respect or concern for the opinion of other groups when they go against the path she has set for her office, regardless of who is put in harms way.
And yet even this organization failed to step up and say the sheriff should not be on this commission. The silence has been deafening from these groups in regards to the lack of representation for staff and the conflict presented by the sheriff. They’re apparently supposed to simply take a proven to be untrustworthy and uncooperative sheriff’s word for it when it comes to what is happening and why. No counterbalance. At least these guys know what the jail should look like from the inside as far as the inmates are concerned.
But hey, the people are happy! She’s great! She’s going to run for at least one, maybe two more terms because she is loved!
And our supervisors are doing everything in their power to manipulate the media on this commission to help keep it that way. If you had any doubt, look at the quotes from our PIO in the above mentioned article, “Sgt. James Jensen, the sheriff’s spokesperson, said Smith appreciates and takes seriously Prison Law Office’s input. Jensen said the sheriff is convening a Blue Ribbon Commission to examine jail conditions and encourages Prison Law Office to be part of that process.” The sheriff is convening a blue ribbon commission? Sounds to me like they’ve put her firmly in the copilot’s seat on this, doesn’t it?
Correction: On review, it doesn’t appear as if Prison Law Office has been selected for the blue ribbon commission as mentioned earlier.