Crowded women’s jail is big lawsuit threat

July 6, 2008


A badly overcrowded women’s jail is the result of Sheriff’s Department officials’ penchant for punishment, a policy that poses for county taxpayers a distinct threat of costly litigation.

Repeated warnings from successive San Luis Obispo County grand juries and a variety of state regulators regarding severely deficient conditions and worsening overcrowding in the women’s facility have been routinely ignored.

Rather, current Sheriff’s Department procedure is to incarcerate as many women as possible, often to serve simply as a “wake-up call.” Department officials are hoping for salvation from the overcrowding problem by building a $50 million expansion to the women’s jail. But that expectation diminished when SLO County officials received word in May that it did not qualify for the state’s anticipated contribution of half of that cost.

In a facility built to handle 43 prisoners, the county jail often teems with as many as 100, according to a past SLO County Grand Jury Report.

A 2006 report by the California State Sheriffs’ Association cites state and federal standards, rules and regulations regarding the number of people that can be housed in jails and individual cells. The threat of successful litigation by inmates because of crowding is significant, according to the report.

One readily available solution to the jail crowding issue is a “population cap.”

In 20 California counties, according to the report, “lawsuits have resulted in court-ordered population caps. An additional dozen counties have imposed population caps on themselves to avoid the costly litigation that results from crowding. These population caps mean that, when a jail is full, for every new inmate being admitted, someone already in custody has to be released.”

San Luis Obispo County is not one of the 32 counties with current caps on female prisoner totals.

“Incarceration allows a vast majority of individuals who are ‘one- timers’ the incentive to never return,” wrote Chief Deputy Rob Reid in an e-mail. “Population caps can eliminate this incentive, and these individuals may not benefit from the wake-up call received by many, and thus prevent their return which increases our population.”

Another alternative to lockup for first-time, non-violent offenders, was created in 2007 when legislation was signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger allowing counties to create mandatory home detention programs for “low-risk” inmates to help ease overcrowding. And while this county has a home detention program, there are currently only 93 participants, and it is entirely voluntary.

Living conditions at the facility have been out of compliance for at least seven years, and are getting progressively worse.

San Luis Obispo County’s 2001 Grand Jury reported on the overcrowding in the women’s jail and recommended that the sheriff “act to correct the situation.”

Two years later, Grand Jury members toured the county jail, accompanied by the sheriff and a correctional lieutenant to examine one continuing area of concern: overcrowding in the women’s section of the jail.

By 2004, little had been yet been done, and the Grand Jury once again called the overcrowding at the women’s jail facility an “unacceptable situation.”

An inspection by members of the state Board of Corrections in February 2004 resulted in findings that the women’s jail facilities, including the female single cells, dorm and honor farm “…continue to remain out of compliance….”

Finding nothing had changed, subsequent grand jurors from 2005 to 2007 found “the women’s jail is overcrowded and continues to operate out of compliance….” The overcrowded conditions at the facility cause it to be in continuing violation of state building codes.

“Jane” served seven days at the facility last year while awaiting arraignment for a non-violent offense.

“The place is gross,” she said. “There are mattresses on the floor between the bunks. People can’t step without stepping on you. It’s packed. There’s no room to walk between the bunks. It’s such a fire hazard.”

Along with crowded conditions comes stress on drinking water supplies and sanitary facilities, in violation of California’s Title 24 building code.

Before passage of SB 959, the state’s home detention plan, a county could utilize detention programs only if the inmate agreed to participate. (Inmates volunteering for home detention must pay the cost for the program. In SLO County, it costs participants $1,000 a month. For SB 959’s mandatory home detention program, participants are not charged, and the counties pick up the expense, as they do with incarcerated inmates.) The legislation was supported by law enforcement groups including the California State Sheriffs’ Association, and Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo).

The legislation included this observation: “This (home detention) program has been very successful in Los Angeles County. The program’s success has been two-fold. First, it saves the county money. The cost of home monitoring is $10 a day as compared to $70 a day for an inmate in custody. [And the] program opens up bed space for serious or violent offenders. The state and counties are all experiencing a crisis regarding limited jail [and] prison space. The home monitoring program is an effective solution to assist in alleviating overcrowding.”

Reid wrote in his e-mail that his department will not recommend to supervisors that the county implement a mandatory home detention program for the county’s low-risk offenders.

“There are limits to operating the (county’s home detention) program,” Reid wrote, “and who the public will accept as individuals allowed to participate in the program. By forcing this program on individuals who do not otherwise qualify and desire to participate, there is a risk of incurring additional charges and increasing our inmate population.”

He added, “We have a home detention program which is used extensively.”

According to officials, there have been 93 women placed in the county’s home detention program this fiscal year. Though, at any given time, the number is substantially lower. Monitoring of participants is contracted to a private company, and one sheriff’s deputy is assigned to administer the program and provide random monitoring.

Additional jail construction is the sheriff’s answer to all this, despite the state funding hurdle.

“The [jail’s] design is at the end of the design development phase,” Reid wrote. “Pending state funding, the project could start as early as May, 2009.” Unrecoverable county costs for planning and design so far total at least $1 million.

County Administrator David Edge said the debate over home detention may not have ended.

“I suspect that the ‘alternatives to incarceration’ debate may well surface again if we don’t get any jail money from the state this time around,” Edge wrote. He suggested the county is “still in the race [for state dollars] only if one of the successful counties fails to meet one of the required criteria in the next couple of months.”

Edge declined to get any further into the debate.

“The sheriff (Pat Hedges) is an independent, elected official, so whether I agree or disagree with his choice doesn’t really matter,” Edge wrote.

Ron Crawford is an independent journalist living in San Luis Obispo County. He can be reached through his blog, Sewerwatch


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By: Anonymous on 7/19/08

It's going to be OK…put down the Kool-aid and go get some fresh air.

That anger will kill you if you are not more careful.

shhhh…hear the birds chirping? good! very good!

By: Anonymous on 7/18/08

OK, you want numbers? Well, they are all over the board, but NONE of the studies I've seen show 99% as a number. We all know that is a made-up number and I'm calling bullshit. That's all. But here's some info:

If you believe Justice Scalia (which I don't, even though I agree with a great majority of his decisions), the false conviction rate nationally is .027%. We're not sure where, exactly, he got this data. On the other side, a Virginia Law School study put the number at 6%, and a study by the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project put the number at 9% (that's probably high).

The person Scalia quoted has gone on record saying the death row percentage is around 5%, and that 127 of 7000 death row inmates have been exhonerated (implies more than innocence, the number innocent is probably larger since not all innocent have been exhonerated).

The way to cut down on the prison population? Decriminalize drugs and stop sending people to prison for possession of small amounts. If the nanny state would get out of our lives and let the American people live the lives they want (as long as their decisons don't negatively impact others), our prison population would shrink AND our streets would be safer.

By: Anonymous on 7/18/08

Funny, you think you know so much. I'm a Republican and have never in my life voted for a Democrat. I just use my brain every once in a while and think the GOP has completely lost its way. You, on the other hand, get your news from Rush and FoxNews and believe it all to be true. People like you are ruining our party and I can only hope that the thinking Republican's can one day overtake the moronic neocon right wingers who seem to be in control now.

By: Anonymous on 7/16/08

Very typical radical lefty cook ad hominem attack.

If you have the facts prove him wrong. I doubt you can.

Stop all the attacks you lefty freaks! Put down the Kool-Aid and get off your knees praising your new empty suit flip-flopping messiah.

There is no dress rehearsal! This is your life.

By: Anonymous on 7/16/08

99%? HaHa… where do you get your data, This is the danger of blogs … morons who have limited information and pass crap on as truth. Turn Rush off every once in a while and read a book (the kind without pictures) every once in a while…

By: Anonymous on 7/14/08

Call the DA's office and ask whet their conviction rate is!

99% of people in jail are guilty!

Wake up you lefty cook!

By: Anonymous on 7/13/08

Not everyone in jail is guilty. Some are waiting for trial you weak kneed mealy mouthed facists. What do you think would produce a better member of society? Being treated well or being treated like crap. Cretins

By: Anonymous on 7/11/08

Clearly the respondant to my post was Ron. Not to beat a dead horse too bad, I just want to add:

There is a difference between producing quality work and telling people that if they like it, donations would be appreciated; and telling your readers you will lose your motivation to work if you don't get paid. Give me a break. If you can't see the difference in that, how can you possible be an objective journalist?

I'm done. This is getting way too stupid.

By: Anonymous on 7/10/08

Elvis is alive and he lives with al gore in nipomo.

By: Anonymous on 7/10/08

I declare elvis is dead!

By: Anonymous on 7/9/08

I declare this thread officially dead.

Mr. Crawford, thankfully, has left the building.

By: Anonymous on 7/8/08

Well well, put folks that are either on hard times or mentally deficient in a non conforming, building code illegal dwelling for their own good.

Maybe Hedges should share a cell with Mr. Devaul

By: Anonymous on 7/8/08

Actually not a bad plan.

By: Anonymous on 7/8/08

The quality of the writing here (except Ron Sewerboy) is great.

Here is how you get money…and a lot of it.

1) Keep doing the investigative reporting

2) Add a local blog with national issues as well (this upcoming election is one of the most important in our history)

3) Seek help from a Cal Poly senior to help with web design and management.

4) Get Cal Poly students help with the local/national blog

5) Increase traffic to the site…3-5,000 a day.

6) Get Cal Poly seniors to help get your name out as a senior project to gather advertisers

7) Get a booth on Thursday nights downtown…have nice hand outs

8) Advertise your site as often as possible. Get the name out.

9) Start to sign up advertisers through ad agencies and direct as well.

10) Ask for help writing grant proposals. There is a ton of free money out there!

This is a winning formula…It just needs to be done and done fast! You "newness" window will close soon. Strike while the poker is hot.

I did this exact strategy for san Luis Sourdough as a consultant the year they won small business of the year award in California.

Last with great sensitivity…move away from local people that are lighting rods in the community…i.e.: radical left leaning folks (hint hint) or radical right. Stand on your own.

By: Anonymous on 7/8/08

If you like being a teacher, should you work for free. Reporters make almost nothing. The press as the watchdog of government will not exist if we ask all reporters to work for free. Get a grip man. If you have passion you will do a better job, but if your are not paid, and not one of the few that don't need to work, you will not have the time to do a great reporting job.

By: Anonymous on 7/8/08

Not to get too off topick but I posted the following on Ron's site:

"This request for money is very slimy. Dan and Karen allowed you to post your story on their site, you should promote their site. And your comment that you won't be motivated to write more? Give me a break. Real writers write because it's a passion, not a paycheck.

Ron, take your ball and go home. Nobody wants to play with you anyway."

By: Anonymous on 7/7/08

Our problem is illegal Mexicans. Period.

Build the fence and send them home. The schools improve, local hospitals stop hemorrhaging money and people feel and are safer.

It's not complicated. Or you can leave us all at risk and ruin the state while they run rampant pillaging our resources and safety.

By: Anonymous on 7/7/08

SLO Co. Jail is not a resort, and is not unlike jails across the state and nation. California suffers from huge numbers incarcerated for the simple reason that Calif. is the most populous state, most affluent and attracts the most crooks. You like living in California? You'd damn well better get used to paying for the privilege with high taxes. If not, move to Az. and enjoy the heat, or IA and enjoy…? and If not, be ready to suffer the consequences of 'early releases' by quivering reactionaries not wanting to increase taxes.

By: Anonymous on 7/7/08

I am a fan of Dan and Karen. However, if this site is to grow they will need help, monetary and reporters. Dan and Karen are the editors. I suspect they did what editors do and decided the story was news, went over the story, fact checked, asked for rewrites and posted. It is a good story. Thanks Dan, Karen, and yes- Ron.

By: Anonymous on 7/7/08

"Ron Crawford is an independent journalist"

Translation: Unemployed

It is an insult to see his name on this great site.

By: Anonymous on 7/7/08

You don't need any help here. You are doing a wonderful job and you have a growing following.

This Ron chap is a real let down to me. I have been here since the beginning.

Don't let ideologues like that post here…please? And for Heaven's sake don't let them ask for money! Let Ron peddle his story elsewhere.

I am appalled at his multiple posts asking for money and pretending to get his link wrong to get more time on the top of the blog.

This is an outrage and an embarrassment to a great site that will be “The best Blog in SLO County 2009”

ps: Are either of a little put out that he posted a story here and then asks for money for us to get the "real" story? sheeesh!

By: Anonymous on 7/7/08

Ron Crawford and all;

Any one who can come up with an issue, should publish it. Only way to keep government (public servants) officials in line. I don't care about your agenda as long as it exposes problems and Fraud.

EFI would not have folded until much later if it wasn't for this site.

So kepp it coming.

By: Anonymous on 7/7/08

I new to this site, so humor me, please? Who else is riding on the coattails of this site? Anyone i need to be aware of.

Great work being done here. Keep it up?

By: Anonymous on 7/7/08

It is probably not a good idea to let Ron Crawford be part of the UNCSLO team. Nothing personal, but he is simply not in the same ballpark as Dan and Karen.

By: Anonymous on 7/7/08

There are two individuals that are riding on the coat tails of this website. Ron Crawford is one.

This is from his weblog today. I am outraged!

Here is what Ron says


Please Support Independent Journalism

If you just clicked to SewerWatch after reading my story, Crowded women’s jail is big lawsuit threat, over at, and found it interesting (and, oh, is it interesting… how's THAT for a "wake-up call"?), please donate here on my blog. The PayPal button and mailing address is on the right.


There it is! He wants people to send HIM money! OMG! I can't flipping believe this!

Leeches all of them…sucking the life out of this site. And you all know who the other one is…

I ask you to not give this creep a nickel! If you have extra cash to donate then it is best to donate to Dan & Karen.

Be careful you two…the sharks are swimming around drooling at your success.

Don't let these goofs steer you off track.

Ron? How dare you? How low can you go?

By: Anonymous on 7/7/08

Fix the problems. I don't want my tax dollars being spent to pay for a lawsuit. However, I do think that jail should be as miserable an experience as legally permissable. Wretchedness reduces recidivism.

By: Anonymous on 7/7/08

I went to Sheriff Joes website, thanks for the link, he offers classes, including GED and computer, to help inmates get their lives togeather. He has programs such as girlscout meetings were inmates spend time with their kids, the only one in the nation.

From his site: "Sheriff Arpaio knows that to reduce recidivism and crime, the root problems of chemical addiction must be addressed. He understands that treating criminals while they are incarcerated is a very effective treatment modality and the most cost-effective for taxpayers."

In summary, this program is an intensive six-month program for sentenced inmates which incorporates group therapy, mandatory work programs, anger management classes, employment readiness training, career counseling and random drug testing. Groups meet four or five times a week at four jails. Attendance is approximately 130 inmates per week, including pre-ALPHA and post-ALPHA groups."


By: Anonymous on 7/7/08

The courts send the violators to jail. The Sheriff is in charge of the jail that houses the violators. The jail is built to hold a certain amount of violators. The courts sends more violators to the jail than it can hold. Is the Sheriff then responsible for the over crowding? The Board of Supervisors controls the budget for the jail. What do you expect the Sheriff to do except to ask for additional funds to address the problem The courts control who goes to jail and when they get out, not the Sheriff.

By: Anonymous on 7/7/08

Let's hope the county doesn't do a whole lot of updating before Karen arrives. Sociable as she is, I think she'd like to be bunking with a couple of other people-persons.

By: Anonymous on 7/6/08

You can't help but wonder… the hang-'em-high folks can't see that Shruff Hedges has a policy that could easily cost SLO County taxpayers a lot of money. Probably in the form of secret settlements. Get it? If not, read this again.

By: Anonymous on 7/6/08

I think we should get Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the sheriff from Arizona who treats criminals like criminals, to come and tell all of the do gooders how inmates should be treated. Jail is not suppose to be a nice place. It's absolutely disgusting to see all of the "privileges" (color tv, gyms, weight machines etc,) that these violators receive and demand. If you don't like jail don't go. The Sheriff only houses the criminals, The courts decides who goes to jail and for how long. Make it uncomfortable and maybe they will leave the area.

By: Anonymous on 7/6/08

As a result of less mental health services, and ridiculous drug laws, our jails are full.

By: Anonymous on 7/6/08

The prison population is up for a number of reasons. California is the leader in world wide incarceration per capita rates. It is a profitable business for guards and prison officials. The prison union donated a lot to the governor’s as well as other political campaigns. Any wonder they just keep voting for longer sentences and less rehabilitation programs. When someone gets out, do you think they can get a job? The taxpayer just keeps out dolling more and more.

By: Anonymous on 7/6/08

If ya can't do the time…don't do the crime.

Build the jails now…trust me…they will come.

The families of the inmates should be charged for the cost of their incarceration. Any money left over should be given to the victims.

Don't get week in the knees now…the criminals aren't.

By: Anonymous on 7/6/08

Every 30 days simply pump Zyklon-B thru the aircon system.


By: Anonymous on 7/6/08

How come the jail population is growing so fast when the county has not grown much in the past 20 plus years?

When everything is criminalized, we can never have enough jails. Isn't it time to revisit some of the laws?