By Joe Nelson, The Sun
Posted: 07/09/15 – 8:29 PM PDT |

SAN BERNARDINO >> Millions of dollars in upgrades and more staff are needed in county jails to address issues related to state prison realignment, Sheriff John McMahon and county CEO Greg Devereaux said Thursday.

Five new sergeants have been assigned to the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, the busiest of the county’s four jails, and more mental health workers will also be hired to address a spike in requests for care, McMahon said.

“We’re going to contract with an outside firm to make up the difference in the staffing that we need in mental health care,” McMahon said.

He said $3 million has been allocated in the county’s fiscal year 2015-2016 budget for that purpose. Meanwhile, he said, the county Department of Behavioral Health will continue trying to recruit more mental health care workers as well.

McMahon and Devereaux said the fallout from the realignment, which shifted responsibility for non-serious offenders from state prisons to county jails, has resulted in much greater need for services in local facilities.

The two were responding to concerns raised by an investigation conducted by the Berkeley-based Prison Law Office, a legal firm that advocates for inmates’ rights.

In a recently released 8-page letter to McMahon, Prison Law Office director Donald Specter noted that his office’s investigation found “serious inadequacies with mental, medical and dental care” in county jails, primarily West Valley, and an “apparent culture of violence where deputies use excessive force to beat, tase [sic], and restrain prisoners.”

While McMahon and Devereaux acknowledge there are problems at the jails, they disagreed that the problems were cultural, and attributed them to prison realignment.

“It’s a standard set of issues that they have,” Devereaux said, referring to similar investigations and class-action lawsuits the Prison Law Office has filed in Fresno and Riverside counties in recent years. Devereaux stressed that San Bernardino County is working with the Prison Law Office to address the concerns.

“This is not just a sheriff and jail issue, this is a county issue,” Devereaux said, noting that services to county jails are provided by many county agencies that are consequently impacted by increased demand.

In a telephone interview Thursday, Specter agreed with Devereaux and McMahon.

“I think that’s in large part true. AB 109 exacerbated pre-existing conditions at some jails,” Specter said. “I think the problem is fixable. I’m pretty confident that if the county continues to work cooperatively, the problems can be resolved.”

Since taking effect in October 2011, prison realignment has vexed counties statewide, which have been trying to address an influx of more violent, hardened criminals now being remanded to “county prisons” for long stints. And many of those new, unwelcome prisoners are bringing with them a spate of grievances about a lack of mental health and medical services.

And they’re also wreaking havoc with other inmates and jail staff, authorities say.

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