(FOX40.COM) — An investigation by the San Joaquin County Grand Jury found that the county’s detention facilities are failing to meet the federal standards of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), according to the grand jury’s 2022-2023 report.
According to the report, over the last five years, San Joaquin County paid out more than $240,000 to settle sexual and physical abuse claims.
“That sum does not include the many work hours paid out for government employee time while either investigating, prosecuting, or defending these instances,” the grand jury wrote in its report.
What is the Prison Rape Elimination Act?
PREA was created in 2003 to establish standards for policies and procedures of federal, state and local governments that house incarcerated individuals.
Its goal is to “prevent and eliminate prisoner rape between inmates in state and local prisons, jails, and police lockup facilities and to safeguard the communities to which inmates return,” the Bureau of Justice Assistance states.
Why did the grand jury investigate PREA violations in San Joaquin County?
The grand jury outlined several recent incidents of sexual abuse of an inmate by a fellow inmate or by prison staff in San Joaquin County that spurred their investigation.
In 2019, a correctional officer with the San Joaquin County sheriff’s office pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a female inmate.
In 2021, two county correctional officers were found guilty of sexually assaulting multiple inmates.
Most recently, a Stockton Police Officer had accusations made against them in 2022 for three instances of sexual harassment and abuse while on duty.
The reported and alleged sexual abuse by law enforcement in the county led to the grand jury’s investigations of the San Joaquin County Jail, San Joaquin County Juvenile Detention Facility and the City of Lodi Jail.
Grand Jury’s findings and recommendations
When the grand jury concluded its investigation after touring all three facilities, the members came up with four findings and three recommendations for the county jail; seven findings and six recommendations for the juvenile detention facility and one finding and one recommendation for the Lodi jail.
San Joaquin County Jail
The grand jury’s first finding was that since the creation of PREA two decades ago, the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office has never had a certified auditor to ensure the act’s compliance.
The jail was found by the grand jury to not meet PREA’s requirements for:
• Providing written material and visible posters that explain inmate rights and the Sheriff’s zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual abuse or sexual harassment.
• Providing means to report sexual abuse or harassment to an independent or public entity in private.
The jail’s lack of video and audio recording equipment in the interrogation room also drew concern from the grand jury as it could lead to a claim of sexual abuse against the sheriff’s department that they would not be able to defend with audio and/or video evidence.
To remedy these findings the grand jury recommended that the sheriff’s officer schedule an audit of the jail by July 1, 2023, with a Department of Justice Certified Auditor.
The grand jury gave the sheriff’s office until Oct. 1, 2023, to display the posters, implement a process for private and confidential reporting of sexual abuse and the installation of video equipment in the interrogation room.
San Joaquin County Juvenile Detention Facility
The grand jury found that the detention facility is lacking full PREA compliance by:
•Failing to publish material on how to keep juveniles and older residents separated
•Failing to conduct an audit of the facility
•Failing to provide a policy on how sexual assault victims can confidentially report to the Women’s Center Sexual Assault Crisis Line
• The facility’s staff has a full lack of all federally mandated PREA standards
• There is no training for educators, third-party contractors and volunteers on PREA standards
July 1, 2023, was also given for the detention facility to undergo an independent audit by a certified Department of Justice Auditor.
The detention facility also has until Oct. 1, 2023, to address the other issues listed in the findings.
Conclusion by Grand Jury
“Full compliance with PREA rules can benefit the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department and
Probation Department in regard to the custodial facilities under their jurisdiction by maintaining
their eligibility to receive additional federal funds and grants and reducing the risk of legal action filed against their departments,” the grand jury wrote in their conclusion.
They also noted the sheriff’s office’s positive decision to install more than 100 cameras throughout the county jail and the purchase of 350 body cameras that are now used in the jail.