County grand jury: Overcrowded jails at crisis point

Overcrowded conditions at the San Mateo County Women’s Correctional Facility have reached a crisis point, and temporary measures must be implemented immediately, a civil grand jury found, echoing a previous grand jury investigation from 2005-06.

The report, released Thursday, found severe overcrowding at both the men’s and women’s jails. The conditions at the women’s jail, according to the report, have resulted in “egregiously inadequate” visiting facilities, lack of space for classrooms, little flexibility to separate potentially hostile inmates and no accommodations for mothers to visit with their children.

The problem is not a new one, said grand jury foreman Stephan Freer. A 2005-06 grand jury concluded that the women’s jail “was a crowded disgrace and must be replaced.” The need for new jails prompted the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors to convene a task force in 1995 to evaluate the county’s detention system. A needs assessment for a new women’s jail is scheduled to be completed at the end of August.

Freer said jurors acknowledged that a new women’s jail should be built. However, officials have not decided on a plan and temporary fixes are needed in the meantime.

“There’s no way they’re going to get plans together, get funding, put up a jail and a year later, there it is. That’s impossible,” he said.

In its report, the grand jury urged county officials to continue to study a plan proposed by the Sheriff’s Office to build a new facility that would house nonviolent offenders who have already been sentenced, while men and women awaiting trial be housed at the existing Maguire jail.

Supervisor Adrienne Tissier said she agreed with the grand jury’s findings, particularly its recommendation to implement programs that would transition inmates into society and decrease recidivism.

Supervisor Jerry Hill also stressed the need to address the overcrowding with immediate solutions. “I’m surprised there hasn’t been stress-related occurrences because of the lack of recreation space and the terrible conditions,” he said after a recent tour of the women’s jail.

The grand jury’s conclusions

The San Mateo County grand jury reviewed county jail reform efforts.

» The Women’s Correctional Center must be replaced. A new facility is still in the conceptual stage and likely years away. Intolerable conditions persist.

» The Maguire Correctional Facility for male inmates is efficient but overcrowded. The problem will worsen over time.

» The proposed post-sentencing jail facility to house both sexes is a promising solution.

» The county’s juvenile detention facilities are well-managed but Camp Glenwood is in need of maintenance.

tbarak@examiner.com

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