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Monterey County, California, Jail Struggles, History of Suicides

Three prisoners in the Monterey County jail in California committed suicide by hanging in the first nine months of 2015.

The first was 34-year-old Cervantes Huerta in February, followed a month later by 52-year-old Sandra Lee Vela. The third was 24-year-old Erick DeAnda in September.

A class-action federal lawsuit was filed by former and current prisoners. A 2014-15 civil grand jury investigation focused on health and safety issues at the jail convened. The lawsuit was settled in 2015 and monitors appointed to perform biannual, two-day-long inspections to oversee compliance. The defendants agreed to pay $4.8 million in attorney’s fees to the plaintiffs.

Understaffing reportedly remains an acute problem, with unfilled positions for jailers. Without adequate staff, it is not possible to perform more than minimal functions.

With jail terms extended for up to 14 years by a new state law and a large increase of mentally ill prisoners, the jail is overtaxed.

Vela’s family filed a wrongful death suit in federal court. Vela had informed jailers at her admission that she needed medical treatment for diabetes, a brain tumor and associated chronic pain. She never received any medical attention despite repeated requests. During her two weeks at the jail, she became acutely delusional, mistaking other prisoners for guards, and accusing the sheriff of killing her husband and stealing her cellular phone.

The California Forensic Medical Group, a for-profit medical care provider, is one of the suit’s defendants. See: Vela, et. al v. County of Monterey, et. al, U.S.O.C. (N.D. CA), Case No. 16-cv-02375-BLF.

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