Ventura County jails not doing enough to prevent inmate deaths, grand jury says

A grand jury report analyzing in-custody deaths at two Ventura County jails is shedding new light on the alleged failures to prevent inmate deaths and the lack of transparency regarding the status of ongoing investigations.

The 27-page document released this week highlights several failures at the two jails, including jail staff not using recommended best practice for preventing suicide in the facilities.

The grand jury, which is comprised of a panel of 19 local citizens, found that employees at the Todd Road Jail in Santa Paula and the Pre-Trial Detention Center in Ventura each followed the minimum suicide prevention and response protocols required by state law, but did not follow the “recommended best practice,” which includes joint training of deputies and medical personnel assigned to jail.

They cited increased communication with families and a better orientation process as keys to prevent suicide in jails. In total, from 2016 to 2022, four in-custody deaths were the result of suicide, the panel found.

Medical personnel were also criticized for being reactive to medical emergencies, rather than proactive, with the jails not having a “robust ‘See Something, Say Something’ protocol.”

Of the four recorded inmate suicides, more proactive medical attention could’ve prevented at least half of them, the grand jury alleged.

Despite the findings, the grand jury did commend Ventura County Sheriff’s Office leadership in their willingness and desire to make changes that will result in fewer in-custody suicides.

Additionally, the panel also criticized the process of which drugs and narcotics were recovered during the inmate intake process, arguing that incentives to surrender narcotics are inadequate and body searches do not do an effective job of detecting dangerous substances.

Drug sniffing dogs are an effective tool for detecting drugs on intake, but the Sheriff’s Office has not fully utilized them in its jails, the report adds. Overdose deaths account for six of the 25 deaths within the jail walls.

Another point of criticism from the grand jury was the topic of transparency.

The panel concluded that the Sheriff’s Office was not transparent with the results of death investigations. In total, 25 inmates died while in custody at the two jails from 2016 to 2022 and the Sheriff’s Office investigated. However, the public was never informed of the results of these investigations.

As part of the grand jury report, a list of recommended solutions has been drafted. The recommendations include creating a panel of community members to review inmate deaths and support the Sheriff’s Office in its prevention efforts.

Additional recommendations include the development of new and improved suicide prevention protocols and increased cooperative training between jail staff and the health care company contracted at the jails.

The panel also outlined additional steps to improve communication and transparency in the aftermath of inmate deaths.

To read the full grand jury report, as well as the complete list of recommended changes and solutions proposed by the panel, click here.

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