State

Concerns raised over jail conditions, honor farm

Stanislaus County Deputy Sheriff Royjindar Singh PIO walks through barracks 1 at the Stanislaus County Honor Farm. A view of the Stanislaus Conuty Honor Farm Monday April 23th, 2007. (Marty Bicek / The Modesto Bee)
Stanislaus County Deputy Sheriff Royjindar Singh PIO walks through barracks 1 at the Stanislaus County Honor Farm. A view of the Stanislaus Conuty Honor Farm Monday April 23th, 2007. (Marty Bicek / The Modesto Bee)

Honor farm inmates should work more and high-risk detainees should not be housed in low-security areas, according to a Stanislaus County grand jury report released Wednesday.

Grand jurors also took exception with funding policy, guards' uniforms, dilapidated jail buildings, a dirty kitchen at Juvenile Hall and the cost of inmate meals and lack of citizen complaint forms at the downtown Modesto jail.

They also renewed a call to replace the deteriorating downtown jail, first called for in 1988.

"If changes need to be made to address these issues, we will make them," Sheriff Adam Christianson said Wednesday. He said he is aware of many of the concerns but won't be able to correct them without sufficient money.

The sheriff said honor farm work crews are deployed daily, under guard, throughout the county to eliminate graffiti, pick up trash and perform other tasks. Grand jurors deemed them "underutilized," resulting in "a waste of sorely needed resources."

Christianson deferred comment on many grand jury findings, saying his staff deserves a chance to review and respond. For example, grand jurors said:

Staff at the Public Safety Center west of Ceres wear several versions of uniforms, "potentially facilitating an escape."

Furniture at the Public Safety Center is not anchored to the floor and is made of flammable material.

A paint room in the downtown jail is a fire hazard.

The downtown jail has no "clear, written guidelines and standards for classification of inmates." Deciding where to house them "appears to be an ad hoc process."

Officers in a downtown observation area can't see part of a rooftop exercise area.

High-risk inmates at the downtown jail should be allowed to exercise in "secured and separate enclosures" without ankle and wrist restraints.

The Sheriff's Department might join other counties when buying food to help cut the $6-per-day average cost of an inmate's meals.

Downtown inmates were not allowed to speak with grand jury visitors.

An overhead vent in the Juvenile Hall kitchen, staffed by the county Probation Department, is "coated with grease. This is a fire hazard."

Two housing units for high-risk offenders at the honor farm are "uninhabitable" and should be condemned and razed.

Honor farm recycling programs and growing vegetables and fruit trees have been discontinued.

Grand jurors also criticized the policy of returning to the county's general fund any savings from creative ideas. "Budgetary challenges call for a more creative approach to managing facilities," the report reads.

Rick Robinson, the county's chief executive officer, said that finding is counterintuitive.

"We have a right to expect that custodians of public resources will take every opportunity to use every tool to reduce costs," he said. "The concept that they should somehow be rewarded for doing their jobs is just a concept that's foreign to me."

Christianson said he continues to explore renting space to the U.S. Marshals to house federal inmates, as a source of revenue.

Expanding the Public Safety Center by 426 beds will not be possible until the recession eases, the sheriff said.

"All of those plans," he said, "have either been slowed down or been placed on hold because of the economy."

Bee staff writer Adam Ashton contributed to this report.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or 578-2390.

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