Santa Barbara County sheriff's officials were ordered to improve living conditions at county jail facilities after inmates described the environment as "inhumane, unsanitary and unsafe" in a federal class-action lawsuit that was settled earlier this month.
The July 17 settlement, which applies to both the Main Jail and Northern Branch Jail, includes numerous measures to improve mental health and medical care, suicide prevention and training for staff, among others.
Changes outlined in the supervised remedial plan must be made by July 1, 2023.
Measures include providing beds for each inmate, along with structured and unstructured out-of-cell time for inmates with mental health needs.
Sheriff's officials also were ordered to increase space for jail programs and recreational activities at the Main Jail to accommodate inmates with disabilities.
Officials will immediately stop the use of clinical restraints, except in accordance with court orders for inmates who await a determination of competency to stand trial, and isolation cells will not be used past Jan. 1, 2021.
The lawsuit was filed at Los Angeles federal court in December 2017 by inmates Clay Murray, David Franco, Shareen Winkle, Maria Tracy and Erick Brown.
Murray, a Vietnam War Army veteran from Lompoc, was convicted of the first-degree murder of 37-year-old Rebecca Yap, of Santa Maria, following a trial in March 2018. Murray was bound to a wheelchair for a portion of his trial.
In the lawsuit, inmates claimed the "inhumane, unsanitary and unsafe living conditions" ultimately caused "widespread harm" and "unnecessary pain and injury."
One inmate, Juan Rodriguez-Zepeda, of Lompoc, was housed in an isolation cell for more than a month while awaiting trial for vehicular homicide before he committed suicide in July 2011. He was dead for several hours before he was found and rigor mortis had set it, according to the lawsuit.
Conditions at the Main Jail have been the subject of numerous lawsuits and grand jury reports for at least 10 years. Sheriff Bill Brown said the settlement sets the path for needed improvements, but changes will be difficult to implement.
"Although our custody professionals have preformed admirably for years, they have been hampered in their efforts by limited resources and an obsolete and inefficient jail facility that is more than 50 years old," Brown said.
He added, "There will be many difficulties in meeting the myriad requirements it contains, but I have confidence that the dedicated men and women in our Custody Operations Branch will rise up and see to it that we meet those challenges.”
The remedial plan was based on recommendations from experts who toured the jail and who are also required to periodically conduct on-site inspections.
Inspections could be prevented by COVID-19, although the Sheriff's Office agreed to provide information and data in accordance with the settlement.
Several parts of the plan have been implemented, such as a sobering center, a centralized crisis services hub and a pre-arraignment unit.
The full settlement is available at sbsheriff.org.
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