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Public Safety

San Diegans affected by jail deaths demand change

No more deaths jail deaths.jpg
Kitty Alvarado
/
KPBS
Cheryl Canson founder of Treat M.I.; Don’t Mistreat M.I. stands in front of the courthouse in San Diego with social justice advocates to demand change in San Diego County jails. Aug. 2, 2022.

Social justice advocates stood shoulder to shoulder Tuesday in front of the state courthouse, to demand action inside San Diego County jail. One of them was Gina Burns with Moms Against Torture.

"Here I am going through the same thing my mother went through," said Burns. She said her brother died inside a jail and now, she's afraid her son will too. "It’s a miracle my son is still alive ... Who holds them (the San Diego County Sheriff's Department) accountable? Enough is enough. No more deaths!"

Speaker after speaker stepped forward and shared stories of people they know who lost loved ones behind bars. They also told stories of abuse they suffered personally, like Aeiramique Glass Blake, who said she has been incarcerated many times during protests during her work as an activist.

"Multiple times during my arrests, not only was I brutalized but once I got into the jail, they allowed me to throw up on myself," she said. "They separated me from other folks."

Glass Blake points out that she was lucky that someone recognized her for her work with government agencies, but still was not given medical care despite being sick with undiagnosed cancer.

"What happens to the people that do not have connections to make a phone call to tell the truth about what’s happening in there?" Blake said. "I’m here to stand with people who are impacted the most."

Less than a week ago a 23-year-old man was the 15th inmate to die this year. An independent report released in April showed that based on population, San Diego County jails had the highest number of people in the state who died without being sentenced.

"I’m hurt, I’m in pain, I’m traumatized, I’m all those things, all those titles fit me today," said Patrick J. Germany. He said he's been in the system before and has watched too many people in the community lose loved ones.

He said he and all those who stood behind him were tired of hearing about deaths happening in San Diego County jails. He said everyone must take action.

"It’s going down just like that and if you don’t wake up and if you don’t watch it, it’s going to be your loved one next," Germany said.

The Sheriff’s department sent KPBS this statement:

"Every death is a tragedy, and we are sympathetic to the families and loved ones who have individuals that have passed while in custody. The Sheriff's Department is focused on improvements and investments in the County Jails. We strive every day to make the jails a safe environment for the individuals in our custody and for our staff.

"Every incident that results in injury or death to an incarcerated person and/or staff is critically reviewed, and any identified improvements are made immediately. During those reviews, we also focus on policy compliance and best medical and healthcare practices.

"Some of the recent changes in our jail facilities include instituting clear policies and expectations regarding welfare and safety checks, conducting medical and mental health screenings of every individual during the intake process, expanding the medication assisted treatment program for addiction, improving wireless connectivity in the facilities, and expanding the body-worn camera program to the jails.

"We have also contracted with a national health care provider to coordinate all healthcare in jails and we have improved the connectivity amongst all healthcare providers in the jails and the community. The Department has also increased access to Narcan. Deputies carry it on their person and incarcerated persons can access it directly in their housing units.

"We are obtaining urine samples at intake to allow medical staff to give medication to provide comfort for chemically dependent incarcerated persons during the first hours and days of their incarceration. Many other changes will take time and include improvements and renovations to existing facilities, adding additional staff and mental health care providers, as well as, continuing to expand addiction services and treatment to individuals in our custody.

"We are working to increase staff in all classifications which will allow us to further improve health care and safety in the jails. We are committed to preventing drugs from entering our facilities, and more staff will support those efforts.

"Sheriff's Department staff at all levels have committed to doing everything we can to ensure the safety and security of all persons who are in our custody as well as our own employees."

Still, justice advocates like Burns want more mental health services provided, families alerted immediately when their person in custody suffers any injury or mental illness episode, and more independent community oversight and accountability.

"I will keep fighting 'til the day I die," she said.