Local Legislators Offer New Law to Reduce SD County Jail Deaths
By Sandra G. Leon
San Diego Assemblywoman Dr. Akilah Weber has authored new legislation to help reduce local county jail deaths by providing additional health services, mental health support, and increased accountability of the Sheriff’s.
Deaths in the county’s jails are among the highest in the state, with 185 inmates having died while in custody between 2006 and 2020.
A report released last month by the California State Auditor concluded that the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department failed to prevent and then respond to the deaths of inmates under its control.
Sheriff Bill Gore retired early last month before the end of his third term which will end in December. Gore had been criticized for the disproportionately-high number of inmate deaths under his watch.
The Auditors report found “multiple instances of individuals who requested or required medical and mental health care and did not receive it at all or in a timely manner,” that “deputies performed inadequate safety checks to ensure the well‑being of those individuals,” and that without “meaningful change to improve its provision of medical and mental health care in its detention facilities, it will continue to jeopardize the safety and lives of individuals in its custody.”
“The high rate of deaths in San Diego County’s jails compared to other counties raises concerns about underlying systemic issues with the Sheriff’s Department’s policies and practices,” acting-California State Auditor Michael Tilden wrote in the report’s cover letter. FULL REPORT HERE
The new bill, AB 2343, authored by Weber, is co-sponsored by all of San Diego’s Democratic legislators, including Assembymembers Tasha Boerner Horvath, Brian Maienschein, and Chris Ward, as well as Senators Toni Atkins and Ben Hueso.
The legislation would create “regulations setting minimum standards for mental health care at local correctional facilities“, require that “Safety checks of at-risk inmates shall be sufficiently detailed to determine that the inmate is alive“, require that “Correctional officers shall be certified in (CPR) and shall be required, when safe and appropriate to do so, to begin CPR on a nonresponsive person without obtaining approval from supervisors or medical staff“, mandate that “Jail supervisors shall be required to conduct random audits of no fewer than two safety checks from each prior shift”, that “In-service training of correctional officers shall include no fewer than four hours of training on mental and behavioral health annually“, that “Health care and mental health care providers employed by, or regularly working within, a county jail shall be required to receive no fewer than 12 hours of continuing education annually“, that “Mental health screening or evaluation conducted at booking or intake shall be conducted by a qualified mental health care professional, if available,” and that “Jail staff shall review the medical and mental health history and the county electronic health record, if available, of any person booked or transferred into the jail to determine any history of mental health issues.“
The bill will first be heard in the Assembly Public Safety Committee.
Four candidates are currently running in the June Primary Election to replace Gore: Undersheriff Kelly Martinez, former Sheriff’s Commander Dave Myers, Deputy City Attorney John Hemmerling, and Sheriff’s Deputy Ken Newsom.
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