Needs Assessments Documented Decline of Santa Clara Jails

The decline of the jails under the management of Laurie Smith was duly documented, yet not noted if we’re to believe Dave Cortese, Cindy Chavez, and Laurie Smith. Reports handed to them in 2007, 2009, 2012, and 2014 showed a clear delineation between the prior management and current management. Virtually all the concerns of the consolidation analysis have turned up.  Problems that did not exist before are now rampant, and problems that existed prior are now crushing issues. There appeared to be a fine balance of active and careful curation of systems to allow a sustainable environment deprived of sufficient staffing. When those systems were no longer well managed, even eliminated, the system began to crumble.

A long time supporter of our blog sent me some documents the other day that opened an entirely new door for us here. After I had found the Management Audit of the Sheriff’s Office and the analysis of Laurie Smith’s consolidation plan, I was provided the above Needs Assessment report of the jails from 2007 showing that the claims Laurie Smith has made about problems existing prior to her take over were untrue. The DoC had gained accreditations and had been recognized in a number of ways for their significant forward movement and creative thinking towards improvement after being in much the same state of affairs as they are now. I started to dig along that path and found three more reports, one for 2009, the year prior to the sheriff taking over, and two reports post take-over from 2012 and 2014, each which shows quite a different environment.

I recently saw a number of people claiming the DSA, CPOA and deputies who don’t “support” the sheriff were just blaming her for the problems she inherited from others. These reports distinctly show that’s not true. From 2007 through 2009 there were issues, but the reports show a continuing improvement and dedication by the administration to maintain a professional and safe environment. All the areas we heard about in the Blue Ribbon Commission — health care, classification, and discipline — did not seem to have near the issues that we’re seeing today.

The 2014 needs assessment, just 5 years later, virtually all under Sheriff Laurie Smith’s command shows an entirely different story. Classification and programming — both heralded in the earlier reports, held grave concerns. Staffing was always a little short in prior years, but now serious cracks are starting to show. In December of 2014, the Board of Supervisors received this latest report, I’m assuming along with the sheriff. Now, in 2016 they’re all claiming they didn’t know or understand the gravity of the issues at hand.

It’s even more amazing now that they sat there after Michael Tyree’s death and acted as if they were taking on a new project that would launch them into leadership mode, even as they knew these reports showed they had actively drug the jails to this current low. Often while touting how great they were doing. We now have three reports that went directly to their hands indicating they were warned of the problems the consolidation plan risked, and several years later, 2 reports showing those plans were already causing major cracks in the system. The only way they “didn’t know” what has been happening since 2010 is if they failed to even skim these reports.

To compare just a few items:

Classification:

2009The DOC’s classification system, while complex and resource intensive, works very well in promoting the separation of offenders into manageable groupings that reduces potential risk.

2014The custody classification system needs to be validated…the classification system has not been validated for its accuracy… Our analysis found the existing system has a high level of complexity and an ultimate risk level is based on a significant level of subjectively rated factors. Additionally, the jail population has changed recently with the addition of AB109 offenders. As a result, a validation of the existing system for this new population would determine its reliability as to whether offenders are placed in the appropriate custody level (maximum, medium, minimum, etc.). A modification to the classification system could result in a different distribution of offenders into the custody/security levels.

While numerous memorandums have served to update the System during the last six years, the basic classification policy and procedures have not been updated. Thus, the reliability and integrity, as well as the validity of the System are questionable.

Programming:

2009The DOC maintains probably the widest array of quality programs of any major jail system in our experience. Offender access to programming is an important security and management tool.

2014SO/DOC offers a significant variety of programs for its inmate population. However, participation in the in-jail programming is not prioritized to those inmates with the highest risk/highest need…therefore many of the inmates participating in SO/DOC’s programs are gaining little benefit from their participation, and may in some cases actually be producing negative outcomes after they are released to the community.

Staffing:

2009Correctional officer staffing levels are inadequate…While county financial constraints may not make such an increase [in staffing] feasible in the foreseeable future, we believe that policymakers should be aware of the magnitude of current custody staffing shortfalls in the DOC because of the increased level of operational risk this creates. While the DOC has managed the inmate population with current staffing levels, it relies heavily on its classification system and housing policies to reduce risk, compensating for a very minimal level of custody supervision in some areas.

2014 – the problems here were extreme and far reaching; selecting an excerpt doesn’t even begin to show the problems listed in this segment. They indicated in 2013 correctional officer positions were 120 bodies short of authorized staffing — a devastating situation considering that in 2009 low staffing was already at issue. Numbers are further impacted by “on loan” and long term leave issues. Ultimately, even after hiring began again, every day each facility ran an average of 48 bodies short every month of 2014. A situation which impacts a myriad of other issues:

Recommendation: Hire additional correctional officers to significantly reduce the gap between the authorized and actual staffing levels. Based on identified workload responsibilities, overtime utilization patterns and facility operational practices, overtime is worked by the correctional officers primarily to fill vacant authorized post assignments. A review of staff work schedule patterns indicates that available officers are appropriately scheduled throughout the day and week in a balanced manner to best address workload responsibilities. The concern appears to be in providing the appropriate number of staff on a consistent basis to fill the current recognized positions.

Compliance:

2007The SCCDOC has a well developed manual of policy and procedures and is maintained by the Department of Correction, specifically containing policies related to inmate programs as defined in Title 15, California Code of Regulations, Article 6, Sections 1061 – 1073. Some policies need to be reviewed and minor revisions made. CSCJC was advised that the Policy and Procedures Manual is currently under review by the unit responsible for professional compliance.

The policy and procedures manual were reviewed by the CSA in July 2005, during their biennial inspection and deemed to be in compliance with minimum standards.

2014 – While staffing support has decreased, the need for a dedicated compliance unit has only grown in the
past few years.

Keep in mind, the compliance unit wasn’t eliminated until 2012, and still shows on the 2011 organizational chart in the 2012 review. In less than 2 years, the impact of eliminating this unit became painfully clear.

As always though, don’t take my word for it. The Board of Supervisors documented the decline of Santa Clara County Department of Corrections and then ignored the building evidence again and again. Read the reports above.

All this begs several questions be asked and answered:

1) Should the sheriff be allowed to continue as the head of the DoC in a contract that she can be removed from should 4 of the 5 supervisors vote as such?

2) Should the sheriff or the supervisors be allowed to take credit for enacting “reform” and “forward thinking” when they actively worked to decimate a jail that had been undergoing notable and recognized reforms and already leading reform.

3) Do Laurie Smith, Dave Cortese, or Cindy Chavez deserve your vote at the polls next time they’re up for election?

Personally, I answered the questions all the same way – with a resounding, “No!”

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  1. Pingback: Let’s Get a Management Review | Casey Thomas' World

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