The San Joaquin County Jail and Juvenile Hall are not doing enough to protect those in custody from sexual and physical abuse or sexual harassment, according to the county’s Civil Grand Jury.
The grand jury recently released a report that found both the county detention facilities have failed to comply with myriad federal requirements under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), a 2003 law meant to protect those in law enforcement custody from being abused. Its investigation revealed the facilities never conduct mandated audits for PREA compliance and identified various communication issues related to providing policy information.
“Failure to meet (the law’s) standards can result in serious consequences for detainees, inmates, and residents, and an inability to protect vulnerable individuals housed at the County custodial facilities,” the grand jury said in the report. “This obligation to protect is ethically correct and required by law.”
In addition, the report noted that failing to carry out federally required audits could result in the loss of federal grant funding.
The county jail is under the purview of the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office, while the County Probation Department runs Juvenile Hall.
Chief Probation Officer Steve Jackson told Stocktonia in statement Wednesday afternoon that his department understands and respects the role of the Civil Grand Jury in inspecting the practices within the department and its institutions.
“We will look at each of the findings and associated recommendations closely and respond accordingly,” Jackson said. “The Probation Department takes great pride in the care and treatment of the youth placed in our custody.”
The Sheriff’s Office echoed Jackson’s sentiments, saying in a statement Thursday morning that the department appreciates the Civil Grand Jury identifying areas where it can improve services to the individuals placed in their care. But the department also emphasized that much of the work to improve PREA issues found by the grand jury are underway.
“We are pleased to report that most of the concerns addressed by the Grand Jury have already been rectified, and the final remaining area — contracting with a DOJ-approved auditor — is actively being investigated and addressed by County Purchasing,” Deputy Sheriff Nick Goucher told Stocktonia.
The grand jury did acknowledge in its report that the Sheriff’s Office was moving in the right direction when it came to surveillance issues it found at the County Jail.
The Civil Grand Jury investigation and full findings
PREA was passed by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2003, with its regulatory standards fully going into effect in 2012. The law was created “to prevent, detect and respond to sexual abuse in confinement facilities,” setting the standards for four categories of law enforcement custody institutions that are defined by the U.S. Justice department as “jails, lockups, community confinement facilities and juvenile facilities.”
“When (the law) is implemented properly it helps to create a safe and secure detention system by addressing the issue of sexual abuse in detention facilities and protecting the rights and safety of individuals,” the Civil Grand Jury said in its report.
The county’s Civil Grand Jury initially began its investigation into certain San Joaquin county-based detention PREA compliance following a review of multiple regarding sexual abuse that’s occurred in county custodial facilities during the past three years.
Evidence reviewed also included PREA federal documentation and San Joaquin County custodial facility websites, with grand jury members also conducting interviews, touring detention facilities with officers and viewing presentations from the Sheriff’s and Probation offices.
“They also reviewed complaints stemming from allegations of sexual and physical abuse occurring within those County detention facilities,” the grand jury said.
The Civil Grand Jury’s 13-page report, the first released for the 2022-2023 year, identified four possible PREA violations within county jail practices and seven within Juvenile Hall. Possible consequences for each possible violation are also included, all of which are listed below.
Though the report largely focused on the County Jail and Juvenile Hall, the Grand Jury also found that the Lodi Police Department Jail did not provide the required “written materials and visible posters explaining inmate rights and the Department’s zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual abuse or sexual harassment at the jail … (which) could result in delays in reporting and investigating, exposing the Office to potential lawsuits, financial liability, and reduction in grant funding.”
California state law mandates that all three law enforcement agencies have 60 days to respond to the Civil Grand Jury’s findings, as well as the corresponding recommendations to remedy any and all possible violations.
Civil Grand Jury findings for the San Joaquin County Jail:
- The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office has failed to ensure that a mandated PREA audit … by a Department of Justice certified auditor has ever been done where one is required to be completed every three years. Failure to complete audits by a Department of Justice certified auditor diminishes transparency, could put inmates and detainees at risk, and could erode public trust.
- The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office is not in compliance with (requirements that mandate providing) adequate written materials and visible posters that explain inmate rights and the Sheriff’s zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual abuse or sexual harassment. This could result in delays in reporting and investigating, thereby exposing the Office to potential lawsuits, financial liability, and reduction in Federal grant funding.
- The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office does not provide adequate means to report sexual abuse or harassment confidentially and privately to an independent public or private entity as required (under the law) which is a violation of PREA standards and could result in a reduction of Federal grant funding.
- There is no video or audio recording equipment in interrogation rooms. There should be no area in the jail, absent issues of mandated privacy, where an inmate could be with officers in secluded settings. A potential claim of sexual or physical abuse without providing visual evidence also means the Sheriff’s department would be unable to effectively defend such a claim.
The grand jury did acknowledge that the Sheriff’s Office is moving in the right direction in some areas, noting that the department has installed more than 100 additional cameras throughout the jail, though the project is not expected to be completed until July, and its acquiring of 350 body cameras last year that are now in use at the facility.
“This additional surveillance equipment will provide transparency and improve determination of fault in the cases of conflict between staff and inmates,” the grand jury said.
Civil Grand Jury findings for San Joaquin County Juvenile hall:
- Every three years PREA Audits by a Department of Justice certified auditor must be completed. The Probation Department for Juvenile Detention has never scheduled nor completed this mandated audit. This failure diminishes transparency, could put juvenile residents at risk, and could erode public trust, exposing the Probation Department and the Juvenile Detention Facility to potential lawsuits and financial liability.
- The Probation Department for Juvenile Detention has failed to conduct an annual review, mandated by (PREA), or updates for required procedures since 2019, which is a violation of PREA standards and could result in reduction of funding or other financial liability.
- The Probation Department for Juvenile Detention lacks published material explaining how separation between juveniles and older residents is to be maintained. Failure to maintain 11 separation and ensure steps are taken to protect juvenile residents from unsupervised older residents could result in undesirable interactions leading to potential lawsuits and financial liability.
- The Probation Department for Juvenile Detention has failed to provide a written policy or procedure to ensure a sexual assault or harassment victim’s report to the Women’s Center Sexual Assault Crisis Line will remain confidential.
- The Probation Department for Juvenile Detention’s website and other public media fail to explain or reference how a third party can make a confidential report on behalf of a juvenile resident, which creates a lack of transparency and fails to provide required confidential accessibility options to file a report.
- The Probation Department for Juvenile Detention staff members demonstrated a lack of understanding that all federally mandated PREA standards apply to San Joaquin County’s Juvenile Detention Facility. A lack of comprehensive understanding of all PREA standards that apply could result in a failure to adequately protect juvenile residents, contractors, and employees.
- The Probation Department for Juvenile Detention does not consistently provide training for educators, third party contractors, and volunteers with refresher training every two years, which is a violation of (certain PREA standards) and could compromise the safety of staff, volunteers, and juvenile residents.