Civil grand jury blasts conditions at women’s jail

For the third year running, the civil grand jury has issued a report criticizing the county’s overcrowded jails and highlighting inequities in the men’s and women’s facilities.

The report follows on the heels of a state inspection of the men’s Maguire jail, made public last week, that found that facility overcrowded and understaffed.

The grand jury called for Sheriff Don Horsley to move quickly to relieve overcrowding at Maguire, and for the Board of Supervisors to fund and build a new Women’s Correctional Center.

“The women’s facility does not provide the female inmate population with the same standard of services as the Maguire Correctional Facility provides for the male population,” jury foreman Ted Glasgow said.

One of the biggest shortcomings is the lack of a visiting center where mothers can see their children, a relationship studies have shown helps reduce recidivism among women and keeps kids out of jail, Glasgow said.

“I agree with the findings and recommendations of the grand jury,” said Supervisor Mark Church, who sits on a subcommittee that deals with jail overcrowding. “The women’s facility is obsolete and should be replaced.”

While the recommended capacity of The Maguire jail is 688, the inmate population over the last 10 months rose as high as 950. In the women’s facility, with a recommended capacity of 84, the population has climbed as high as 149, officials said.

Since the last grand jury report a year ago, the county has moved ahead with requests for a needs assessment to develop a conceptual design for a new women’s jail, and taken steps to reduce overcrowding in both facilities by using work furlough and electronic monitoring programs for nonviolent inmates, said Capt. Mark Hanlon, who oversees the courts, custody and security service for the sheriff’s office.

Supervisors are expected to allocate $120,000 for the assessment before the end of the month, Hanlon said.

“We don’t just need a [women’s] jail,” Horsley said. “We need to look at the entire system and figure out what we can do with people.”

Building a new women’s jail should be the top priority for the county, according to Supervisor Rich Gordon. He expects a report from the jail overcrowding subcommittee on how to build a new facility and pay for it in coming months.

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