What happens in prison stays in prison. Inside the barbed wired fences lies a world unto itself where inmates are at the mercy of prison officials to take care of their needs. Some prisons are better at accomodating those needs than others, but whether they do or don’t is seldom known by the general public. Inmates fear the repercussions of ratting out uncooperative guards and officials so foul play generally goes unchecked. Until it doesn’t.
Who would have ever thought a prison located in the liberal state of California would be one of the worst offenders of inmate abuse? And who thought a county prison would earn the honor? San Luis Obispo County Jail has been charged with using excessive force and for denying prisoners mental health and medical care. Word got out to the feds who quickly descended on the prison for an up-close and personal look.
Following the investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice determined that “there is reason to believe that the practices at the jail violate the Eighth and 14th Amendments of the Constitution, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).”
According to the report prisoners with known or apparent mental health disabilities had additional restrictions placed on them and were denied the benefit of receiving proper care and treatment. It was easier to toss them all together where they could be carefully watched, despite violent offenders and shoplifters sharing the same space.
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division made it clear by saying, “Our Constitution guarantees that all people held in jails and prisons across our country are treated humanely, and that includes providing access to necessary medical and mental health care.”
The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office didn’t deny what the investigation uncovered, but they did say that the “issues and concerns brought forth fails to take into account the many remedial measures undertaken since the investigation began.” They say they’ve been trying to clean up the spills and even managed to mop up a few of them as they were pointed out.
The sheriff’s office said they have created a special “dedicated space to treat and house patients with special needs, including chronic medical and mental health problems.” They also claim to have already expanded the availability of medical, mental, and dental health care.
In addressing the use of inappropriate force accusations the sheriff’s office said that those who have been found guilty of the charge have received strict disciplinary action.
“The Sheriff’s Office has worked cooperatively with the Department of Justice over the past three years to investigate deficiencies and determine appropriate improvements to ensure our jail facility is fully compliant with federal law. We are pleased with our progress so far and will continue to work diligently to provide a safe and secure jail facility,” they said.
But this also raises the questions of why it took federal involvement to correct the prisons’ deficiencies, and how on earth could it have taken a full three-year investigation to find what they were looking for? Perhaps an additional question might be what if anything was actually accomplished on behalf of the prisoners during that exorbitant length of time? Simply saying they were fixing things as they went along leaves the pudding without proof.
All indicators would point to the feds responding to the allegations for the purposes of saying they looked into the matter. Again, for three years… Saying and doing are two different things and all logic would say that San Luis Obispo County Jail is only one of many prisons where inmate rights are being grossly violated.
Some might say they’re just inmates so who cares? But the purpose of jail is to hopefully rehabilitate offenders into productive citizens. Beating them up and ignoring their medical and mental health issues runs contrary to that purpose. It only makes them hate society all that much more.