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County inmates report unsafe conditions, go on hunger strike as COVID-19 cases soar

Santa Clara County inmates are on a hunger strike as cases of COVID-19 rage through the correctional system amid reports of unsanitary, unsafe and cruel conditions. Bay City News file photo.

Inmates in Santa Clara County's jails are on a hunger strike as cases of COVID-19 rage through the correctional system amid reports of unsanitary, unsafe and cruel conditions.

As of Jan. 14, there were 109 active cases of COVID-19 among county inmates, a slight dip from a high of 127 earlier in the week.

Silicon Valley De-Bug, an advocacy and organizing group, said inmates in the county's main jail would stage a hunger strike beginning Jan. 13 in protest of "conditions of confinement and cruel and unusual punishment" related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

According to Sheriff's Office data, the county jails housed 2,212 inmates as of Jan. 14, about a third less than usual after the county released lower-risk individuals early to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Sheriff's Office officials told San Jose Spotlight that the increased COVID-19 numbers are due to an outbreak in the men's dorm at the county's Elmwood Correctional Complex in Milpitas.

But Silicon Valley De-Bug released a report Thursday detailing conditions in the jails, based on interviews and surveys done with inmates and recently released individuals, indicates serious dangers to inmate health.

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"There simply is no population in the county that is in more peril, or more vulnerable to COVID-19, than those incarcerated in our jails," the statement read.

Mistreatment and health violations

The report included first-person stories from those inside the jails detailing unsafe and negligent conditions.

"(I am housed in a) dorm setting at M-8-C Elmwood. There are approximately 65 beds and approximately 61 beds full," said one anonymous inmate in the report. "Last week, every bed was full. The bunks are 2 1/2 feet apart. No room at all for social distancing - if your neighbor coughs, it goes right in your face."

In an interview with San Jose Spotlight, the mother of an inmate at Main Jail North in San Jose said her son was on a 26-day medical quarantine lockdown after an outbreak in his dorm in December and early January. San Jose Spotlight agreed to withhold her name for fear of retaliation against her son.

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The mother said the methods of keeping inmates isolated are cruel, and not necessarily effective.

"During (the quarantine) there were no non-contact visits allowed and communication by phone with them was limited, as well as very limited programming for showers and exercise," she said. "Those inside who test positive are subject to being placed in unsanitary conditions or solitary confinement, and also subject to not having any contact with their families or friends for a lengthy period of time, which is perceived as punishment."

Inmates have chronicled alleged mistreatment and unsanitary conditions in county jails for months, including a San Jose Spotlight story in September that highlighted "hellhole" conditions, such as isolating sick inmates in cells with rodent feces and forcing them to bathe with a sock and shared bucket of water.

Before this surge, the highest case count at county jails was 91 on Aug. 12. At the time, there were 2,063 in the entire jail system.

Over the past two weeks, there is an average of more than 12 new cases of COVID-19 per day, according to Sheriff's Office data.

Canceled visits

It's been difficult navigating the correctional system amid the pandemic, the inmate's mother said.

Often, her only interaction with correctional officers is when she arrives at the jail for scheduled visits with her son. She's often turned away for regular visits due to COVID-19 exposure.

"It is very disappointing and heartbreaking to be told after you travel to a scheduled visit that you are not able to see your family member nor even being told that your loved one is sick," the mother said.

Sometimes her phone calls are limited to five minutes, but can be up to 15 minutes, depending on the deputies on duty at the time.

"Since COVID-19 started, we have talked about it at great length and how he can try to protect himself as the information given to them is limited or what they might see on the news," the mother said. "Those inside feel as though they are not kept informed."

No masks inside

The mother said her son and other inmates see staff without masks, and that there's no way to socially distance when forced to share a cell with another person.

When asked about the conditions, a spokesman for the Santa Clara County's Sheriff's Office said all inmates who test positive are moved into designated housing units and are being monitored by medical staff.

The office's COVID-19 contact tracing unit is still working to identify the possible source of the latest outbreak and mitigate further exposure.

"Since the beginning of this pandemic, our goal remains the same," said Sgt. Michael Low. "We are doing everything within our capacity to mitigate the spread of this contagious virus and to protect the health and safety of everyone within our facilities and community."

However, the De-Bug report found that most inmates are not provided with proper sanitary supplies or given the opportunity to practice proper hygiene.

"(When I tested COVID-19 positive), my experience was very frightening," said another anonymous inmate in the report. "I did not shower for 4 days. I was not given clean clothes. The same number of days I was in lockdown. For over 96 hours continuously, no cleaning supplies were provided."

The individual was given Tylenol and their only interaction with the outside world was food handed through a door.

Vaccines for inmates

As California moves forward with vaccinating more people, inmates will soon be eligible for vaccinations under Phase 1B Tier 2, along with the unhoused and others in "congregate settings with outbreak risk," according to the state's COVID-19 website.

County health officials would not say how vaccines will be distributed among inmates, how they'll be tracked or if inmates will be forced to take one.

"As you can imagine, a lot of effort is going into planning the next stages of vaccine administration," a spokesperson for the county public health department said in an email to San Jose Spotlight. "We hope to have more detailed next steps for you in the coming days and will provide information to the media to be transparent and keep the public informed."

The De-Bug report calls for the county District Attorney's Office to work with the Public Defender's Office to "expedite mass releases" of vaccine, as well as for the county's presiding judge to "extend decarceral policies such as the Zero Bail model."

The report also asks for policing agencies in the county to use "cite and release" options instead of using pretrial confinement in jails.

This story, from Bay City News Service, was originally published on San Jose Spotlight here.

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County inmates report unsafe conditions, go on hunger strike as COVID-19 cases soar

by /

Uploaded: Sun, Jan 17, 2021, 7:42 am
Updated: Tue, Jan 19, 2021, 8:41 am

Inmates in Santa Clara County's jails are on a hunger strike as cases of COVID-19 rage through the correctional system amid reports of unsanitary, unsafe and cruel conditions.

As of Jan. 14, there were 109 active cases of COVID-19 among county inmates, a slight dip from a high of 127 earlier in the week.

Silicon Valley De-Bug, an advocacy and organizing group, said inmates in the county's main jail would stage a hunger strike beginning Jan. 13 in protest of "conditions of confinement and cruel and unusual punishment" related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

According to Sheriff's Office data, the county jails housed 2,212 inmates as of Jan. 14, about a third less than usual after the county released lower-risk individuals early to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Sheriff's Office officials told San Jose Spotlight that the increased COVID-19 numbers are due to an outbreak in the men's dorm at the county's Elmwood Correctional Complex in Milpitas.

But Silicon Valley De-Bug released a report Thursday detailing conditions in the jails, based on interviews and surveys done with inmates and recently released individuals, indicates serious dangers to inmate health.

"There simply is no population in the county that is in more peril, or more vulnerable to COVID-19, than those incarcerated in our jails," the statement read.

Mistreatment and health violations

The report included first-person stories from those inside the jails detailing unsafe and negligent conditions.

"(I am housed in a) dorm setting at M-8-C Elmwood. There are approximately 65 beds and approximately 61 beds full," said one anonymous inmate in the report. "Last week, every bed was full. The bunks are 2 1/2 feet apart. No room at all for social distancing - if your neighbor coughs, it goes right in your face."

In an interview with San Jose Spotlight, the mother of an inmate at Main Jail North in San Jose said her son was on a 26-day medical quarantine lockdown after an outbreak in his dorm in December and early January. San Jose Spotlight agreed to withhold her name for fear of retaliation against her son.

The mother said the methods of keeping inmates isolated are cruel, and not necessarily effective.

"During (the quarantine) there were no non-contact visits allowed and communication by phone with them was limited, as well as very limited programming for showers and exercise," she said. "Those inside who test positive are subject to being placed in unsanitary conditions or solitary confinement, and also subject to not having any contact with their families or friends for a lengthy period of time, which is perceived as punishment."

Inmates have chronicled alleged mistreatment and unsanitary conditions in county jails for months, including a San Jose Spotlight story in September that highlighted "hellhole" conditions, such as isolating sick inmates in cells with rodent feces and forcing them to bathe with a sock and shared bucket of water.

Before this surge, the highest case count at county jails was 91 on Aug. 12. At the time, there were 2,063 in the entire jail system.

Over the past two weeks, there is an average of more than 12 new cases of COVID-19 per day, according to Sheriff's Office data.

Canceled visits

It's been difficult navigating the correctional system amid the pandemic, the inmate's mother said.

Often, her only interaction with correctional officers is when she arrives at the jail for scheduled visits with her son. She's often turned away for regular visits due to COVID-19 exposure.

"It is very disappointing and heartbreaking to be told after you travel to a scheduled visit that you are not able to see your family member nor even being told that your loved one is sick," the mother said.

Sometimes her phone calls are limited to five minutes, but can be up to 15 minutes, depending on the deputies on duty at the time.

"Since COVID-19 started, we have talked about it at great length and how he can try to protect himself as the information given to them is limited or what they might see on the news," the mother said. "Those inside feel as though they are not kept informed."

No masks inside

The mother said her son and other inmates see staff without masks, and that there's no way to socially distance when forced to share a cell with another person.

When asked about the conditions, a spokesman for the Santa Clara County's Sheriff's Office said all inmates who test positive are moved into designated housing units and are being monitored by medical staff.

The office's COVID-19 contact tracing unit is still working to identify the possible source of the latest outbreak and mitigate further exposure.

"Since the beginning of this pandemic, our goal remains the same," said Sgt. Michael Low. "We are doing everything within our capacity to mitigate the spread of this contagious virus and to protect the health and safety of everyone within our facilities and community."

However, the De-Bug report found that most inmates are not provided with proper sanitary supplies or given the opportunity to practice proper hygiene.

"(When I tested COVID-19 positive), my experience was very frightening," said another anonymous inmate in the report. "I did not shower for 4 days. I was not given clean clothes. The same number of days I was in lockdown. For over 96 hours continuously, no cleaning supplies were provided."

The individual was given Tylenol and their only interaction with the outside world was food handed through a door.

Vaccines for inmates

As California moves forward with vaccinating more people, inmates will soon be eligible for vaccinations under Phase 1B Tier 2, along with the unhoused and others in "congregate settings with outbreak risk," according to the state's COVID-19 website.

County health officials would not say how vaccines will be distributed among inmates, how they'll be tracked or if inmates will be forced to take one.

"As you can imagine, a lot of effort is going into planning the next stages of vaccine administration," a spokesperson for the county public health department said in an email to San Jose Spotlight. "We hope to have more detailed next steps for you in the coming days and will provide information to the media to be transparent and keep the public informed."

The De-Bug report calls for the county District Attorney's Office to work with the Public Defender's Office to "expedite mass releases" of vaccine, as well as for the county's presiding judge to "extend decarceral policies such as the Zero Bail model."

The report also asks for policing agencies in the county to use "cite and release" options instead of using pretrial confinement in jails.

This story, from Bay City News Service, was originally published on San Jose Spotlight here.

Comments

Jennifer
Registered user
another community
on Jan 17, 2021 at 10:16 am
Jennifer, another community
Registered user
on Jan 17, 2021 at 10:16 am
R. Cavendish
Registered user
another community
on Jan 17, 2021 at 1:11 pm
R. Cavendish, another community
Registered user
on Jan 17, 2021 at 1:11 pm

in reference to the above commentary...

many inmates are awaiting arraignment, pre-trial hearings or trials and are presumed innocent under our constitution. arrests are only significant is they culminate in an actual conviction.

from what I have heard, the pre-Covid 19 conditions at Elmwood Correctional Facility in Milpitas were somewhat unsatisfactory to begin with due to a close proximity of beds, unsanitary lavatory and shower facilities, limited laundry services, minimal health care provisions, and poor quality food.

further Covid-19 infections beyond the realm of the facility's sick bay will warrant inmate patients being transferred to SC County Valley Medical Center placing further strain on the county hospital's ICU units.

unfortunately there is no simple solution towards controlling the pandemic in an enclosed environment such as a county jail.

as far as food quality and medical services are concerned, a former inmate once conveyed to an acquaintance that living conditions are generally much better on the state penitentiary level due to vocational training opportunities in the food service area and prison hospital.


R. Cavendish
Registered user
another community
on Jan 17, 2021 at 1:18 pm
R. Cavendish, another community
Registered user
on Jan 17, 2021 at 1:18 pm

typo-correction: "arrests are only significant IF they culminate in an actual conviction."


Jennifer
Registered user
another community
on Jan 17, 2021 at 1:27 pm
Jennifer, another community
Registered user
on Jan 17, 2021 at 1:27 pm

I'm tough on crime. My empathy is for the victims of criminals.


Anonymous
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 18, 2021 at 10:27 pm
Anonymous, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jan 18, 2021 at 10:27 pm

I agree with Jennifer.


Just Sayin'
Registered user
another community
on Jan 19, 2021 at 11:21 am
Just Sayin', another community
Registered user
on Jan 19, 2021 at 11:21 am


OMG! Of course, we all have sympathy for the victims. However, we have no idea of what kind of lives these inmates have had that led them to the point of committing crimes. Treating them inhumanely doesn't help anyone. It doesn't set a good example and it doesn't remediate the situation or provide hope for a better future.


Jennifer
Registered user
another community
on Jan 19, 2021 at 12:34 pm
Jennifer, another community
Registered user
on Jan 19, 2021 at 12:34 pm

When it comes to committing crimes, it doesn't matter what type of lives anyone has led. And what's so cruel about not being able to visit your son in jail? I'm not visiting my young adult children in their homes during the lockdown either. Conditions in jail have always been harsh. So we're supposed to trust the inmates, and take them at their word? My mindset is quit committing crimes, and live well in your own home. As taxpayers, we're paying for this.


Don't end up in jail
Registered user
Downtown North
on Jan 19, 2021 at 12:56 pm
Don't end up in jail, Downtown North
Registered user
on Jan 19, 2021 at 12:56 pm

I totally agree with Jennifer. No pity for the criminals. They put themselves in jail by their actions and I care more about hard working people and victims who need our help with Covid. These people should be last on the list because they are a drag on the community and are costing us a lot of taxpayer dollars to house them due to their misbehavior in a civilized society.


Inmates Have Civil Rights Too
Registered user
Stanford
on Jan 20, 2021 at 8:13 am
Inmates Have Civil Rights Too, Stanford
Registered user
on Jan 20, 2021 at 8:13 am

***No pity for the criminals. They put themselves in jail by their actions..These people should be last on the list because they are a drag on the community and are costing us a lot of taxpayer dollars to house them due to their misbehavior in a civilized society.

∆ Some inmates are victims of false arrest, mistaken identity, wrongful allegations, not cooperating with the police, and inconclusive DNA evidence.

They are only criminals upon conviction by a court of law and thus deserve the same access to proper medical care and good nutrition as the average American citizen.

The county jails are just holding tanks for arrestees pending trials.

If convicted of a felony, they are then sentenced to the state prison system and many misdemeanor cases are written off.

Criminal is a loose term as we are all criminals to a certain extent whether it's by lying to others, fudging on our income taxes, exceeding the speed limit etc.

The big house is just a glass house with bars.


c'mon, it's simple: WWJD?
another community

Registered user
on Jan 20, 2021 at 10:39 am
Name hidden, another community

Registered user
on Jan 20, 2021 at 10:39 am

Due to violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are only visible to registered users who are logged in. Use the links at the top of the page to Register or Login.


AlexDeLarge
Registered user
Midtown
on Jan 20, 2021 at 10:47 am
AlexDeLarge, Midtown
Registered user
on Jan 20, 2021 at 10:47 am

"Breaking rocks in the hot sun, I fought the law and the law won" - Sonny Curtis


Back In Palo Alto
Registered user
another community
on Jan 23, 2021 at 3:16 pm
Back In Palo Alto , another community
Registered user
on Jan 23, 2021 at 3:16 pm

Having been recently released from county jail due to a wrongful arrest, I can personally attest to the poor living conditions at the Elmwood facility.

The food is poor. Breakfast is delivered at 4:30 AM and consists of bread with baloney or American cheese, and a small container of milk. Sometimes a small bag of cold cereal is substituted for the bread and baloney.

Lunch is served at 10:30AM and generally consists of the same except for a small apple or orange added.

Dinner arrives around 4:30PM. A hamburger patty, some flat noodles and frozen veggies is a typical offering. Sometimes a piece of cake without icing is provided for desert.

Sleeping quarters are cramped with 50 bunk beds per barrack. There is no privacy and the bathroom-shower facility is shared by 100 inmates.

Laundry services are provided two times a week and an inmate must wear the same clothes and undies for three days.

The guards tend to be very rude and bullyish. No respect or consideration towards inmates and telephone services are poor.

This is no way for a civilized society to treat it's inmates and thus, it is no surprise that coronavirus safety protocols are held to a minimum.

There needs to be better healthcare, improved treatment of inmates, and better food provided, because there will always be jails and people who reside there on a regular or returning basis.


Peter LeBlanc
Registered user
another community
on Jan 25, 2021 at 12:17 pm
Peter LeBlanc, another community
Registered user
on Jan 25, 2021 at 12:17 pm

In some ways, locking up minor offenders in county jail is a waste of time and taxpayer's money.

Unless they are posing a direct endangerment to society, most them should just be released on their own recognizance pending arraignment.

This includes 1st time DUIs, possession of drugs, loitering, trespassing, drunk in public and other trivialities.

At best, just let them sleep it off overnight like in Mayberry because chances are they will be re-arrested at a later date.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a serious matter and it would be a shame to contract it by simply being in jail.


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