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California Adds Statewide Detention Monitors Overseeing Local Jails

Quietly, on October 4, 2023, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed into law a measure to boost transparency in the state’s local jails, also adding a layer of oversight vested in a new statewide “detention monitor”—who will act much like an Inspector General to identify problems and make recommendations to county sheriffs regarding in-­custody jail deaths.

S.B. 519 was sponsored by state Sen. Toni Atkins (D-­San Diego), who said it will force sheriffs to disclose more information about mounting jail deaths. In her home county of San Diego, with one of six large jail systems in the state to notch a record number of deaths in 2022, payments to settle related lawsuits have totaled some $50 million, as PLN reported. [See: PLN, Nov. 2022, p.1.]

The new law’s other main provision adding state oversight was designed to encourage sheriffs to take corrective action after in-­custody deaths. At a July 2023 hearing, Atkins noted that each county’s Board of Commissioners is responsible for “settling lawsuits involving in-­custody jail deaths,” but she said those same politicians “have limited authority in requiring the Sheriff’s Department to enact policies to reduce in-­custody deaths.”

S.B. 519 augments the Board of State and Community Corrections with a new Director of In-­Custody Death Review, who will be appointed by the governor to a six-­year term by July 1, 2024. Aided with a new staff of medical and mental health professionals which the bill also provides for, the Director will review in-­custody deaths in county jails and make policy recommendations to sheriffs. Importantly, the recommendations are public records, as are responses from sheriffs, which are due within 90 days.

Atkins originally wanted to strip local jail authority from sheriffs and establish a Department of Corrections in each county. But she got so much pushback that she amended the proposal as a “sign of good faith.”

Sheriffs were not impressed. California State Sheriffs’ Association President and Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux called the measure an unnecessary “duplicate of things that really are already in place when we have a death in our jail.”

Sacramento defense attorney Mark Merin agreed that the bill’s in-­camera review provision—allowing a sheriff to challenge records requests in private before a judge—will likely slow the disclosure process so much that “I don’t see this streamlining things and producing a flood of, you know, useful information.”  


Additional source: Cal Matters

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