Over the past eight years, huge changes occurred in California’s criminal justice system. Reduction of prison overcrowding was the impetus behind these changes after a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision required prison downsizing, and there is no question that there are far fewer inmates in the state prison system than before these reforms took place.
Of course, any big change brings along unintended consequences, and for many inmates, these prove severe. Jails designed to house people for only a short while are now home to long-term inmates, and the level of care at these facilities actually makes prison care look good by comparison.
How It Was Supposed to Work
The reforms were meant to allow those convicted of non-violent crimes serve their sentences in county jails near their homes. The county jails were supposed to provide job training and educational programs. While the reforms have worked as planned in some counties, that is decidedly not the situation in large urban jails were which never intended to house the types of inmates they are now receiving. Rather than people either awaiting trial or serving a short stint in jail for a minor crime, urban jails are now full of inmates with a violent history or serious mental or physical health issues.
Over the past eight years, deaths in California jails jumped by 26 percent. It now has the highest jail death rate in the nation, 17.7 deaths per 10,000 inmates. Texas, the state with second-largest number of people in jail, has a death rate of 13.2 per 10,000 inmates. Assault on jail officers increased a whopping 90 percent from 2010, the year the changes began, to 2017. After a period of decline, the number of mentally ill people in jail has climbed, and county jail spending on inmate medication has nearly doubled.
Some of the oldest jail complexes, including those in Fresno, Sacramento, San Bernardino and San Diego have experienced a huge increase in the number of suicides or suicide attempts by inmates. Of all the county jails, Los Angeles is the most affected, as one-quarter of all inmates relocated from prison to county jails end up in LA. That’s approximately 45,000 people. The expense has been incredible, and county jail budgets are struggling.
A More Sophisticated Offender
Relocating inmates from prison to county jails has resulted in many jails now experiencing issues that were not previously a problem. That includes gangs and inmates with serious mental or development disabilities. Violence among inmates has increased significantly at many county jails. As a member of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department observed, offenders in jails are more sophisticated these days, since many of them served time in the prison system. They bring to the jail a prison mentality, which might mean weapons are devised out of almost anything.
A Lawsuit Alleging Inhumane Conditions
Cody Garland, 35, has spent much of his life behind bars. He spent time at eight different state prisons, but the worst was his time at the Sacramento County Jail. Garland was sent there in 2016 on an eight-year sentence for burglary and identity theft.
While there, Garland spent a great deal of time in solitary confinement, a frequent punishment in county jails. Because of inadequate medical care, he is now legally blind due to glaucoma. After spending an indeterminate amount of time in solitary, Garland began hearing voices but could not obtain mental health care. Eventually, he attempted suicide by swallowing metal shards and trying to hang himself.
Garland has now filed a lawsuit, along with five other inmates, against the county, alleging inhumane conditions. The lawsuit claims the county houses inmates in jails that are overcrowded and understaffed, with conditions that are “dangerous, degrading and inhumane.” Garland, however, is no longer in a Sacramento County Jail, but in a San Luis Obispo prison medical facility, which he much prefers. In 2018, he hit an officer and did not contest the felony charges. He did, however, ask the judge to send him to prison rather than jail, saying he’d rather spend two years in prison than six months in jail.
Inmates have the right not to be abused or wrongfully imprisoned. If you or a loved one has suffered mistreatment in jail or prison, you have legal options and may be entitled to compensation. CALL US at 866.836.4684 or Connect Online to learn how we can help you file a federal civil rights lawsuit.