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National Jail Experts Decry Conditions at Monterey County, California Jail

by Derek Gilna

A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union has highlighted substandard conditions at the Monterey, California County Jail.  Plaintiffs’ attorneys Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP charged that jail officials have failed to provide prisoners with adequate medical and mental health care and ignored requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by denying disabled prisoners access to jail services, programs and activities.

Made public as part of that lawsuit were a series of reports by national jail conditions experts that plaintiffs have incorporated into their motion for class action certification.  “These reports make clear that there are serious structural and systemic problems with the jail and that conditions inside the facility do not meet constitutional and ADA standards. Rather than continue to waste taxpayer money litigating these issues, county officials should address them with serious and detailed remedial plans,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Bien.

According to the Sheriff’s own incident reports, more than 150 incident of prisoner-on-prisoner violence occurred from January of 2011 through early September of 2012. More than 100 of these incidents resulted in prisoners seeking medical attention, and the violence was not just confined to a small percentage of the jails pods; 26 of the 29 housing units reports acts of violence.

Prisoner rights experts agree that one of the principal causes of violence in correctional settings is the tension caused by serious overcrowding.  Although the Monterey County jail has a stated capacity of 825, it averaged more 1000 prisoners on a month basis, reaching a height of 1,144 prisoners in May of 2013.  County jails, which are generally designed for short-term stays, rather than long-term confinement, are especially sensitive to overcrowding.

Staff shortages at Monterey also contributed to the many problems, the experts also said, ensuring that routine duties are “not performed consistently or (are) performed poorly includ(ing) evaluation of health requests, chronic illness care, evaluations in sobering and isolation cells, management of patients in the (Outpatient Housing Units) and intake assessments.  Segregation rounds and infection control surveillance are (simply) not performed.” Other experts criticized the lack of access for disabled prisoners, poor mental health treatment, and “filthy, windowless cells” used for suicidal prisoners.

According to Alan Schlosser, executive director of the ACLU of Northern California, “It is imperative that the county address the jail’s high pretrial population, utilize split sentencing more often and make full use of other alternatives that would reduce the need for incarceration while making the community safer by equipping people in the criminal justice with the support they need to successfully transition back into the community and lead stable lives.”

See: “Monterey County PD Office Sues county, “ by Julia Reynolds,, May 24, 2013;