Corrections vehicle outside of county jail. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Corrections vehicle outside of county jail. Photo by Robert Eliason.

The 2022-23 San Benito County Civil Grand Jury commended the county jail staff for keeping high standards but concluded that understaffing creates undue stress and the lack of proper air conditioning creates potential health hazards.

The report, which was submitted on June 26 and approved by the court on July 13, states jurors toured the facility on two occasions, conducted interviews with personnel from the Sheriff’s Office and Corrections Division and reviewed procedural manuals and public documents. The jurors also reviewed all Civil Grand Jury reports and responses since 2013. 

Understaffing and overtime

Currently, the jail has 37 staff positions and six officer vacancies. The jail has a capacity of 124 inmates and averages 100 inmates at any given time. 

Correctional staff are scheduled for 12-hour shifts, with five officers on day shifts and four on night shifts. The staff shortages force officers into frequently working mandatory overtime, and some shifts can last 16 hours or more. Personnel can earn more vacation time than they can use, and the job pressures have left many of the staff feeling overworked and burned out.

The report notes that previous Civil Grand Jury reports have identified understaffing and overtime as critical issues and the San Benito County Board of Supervisors has not acted on the findings.

Facilities, programs, equipment

According to the report, Civil Grand Juries have been recommending since 2013 that a new air conditioning system be prioritized and that lack of proper heating, ventilation and air conditioning has the potential to cause health problems such as elevated blood pressure, asthma, dehydration, heat exhaustion and communicable diseases. Though the Board of Supervisors has, in the past, agreed to the need for these repairs, it responded to the recommendations for a new system in the 2021-22 report by saying the improvements would not be implemented.

Interior, county jail. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Interior, county jail. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Findings and recommendations

The Civil Grand Jury found that the county jail keeps the highest standards of order despite the ongoing problems with ventilation and air conditioning. It commended the staff on the standard of inmate care and cleanliness.

It also found that understaffing exposes the inmates and staff to serious mental and physical health problems and could have “potentially dangerous unintended consequences,” noting that previous grand juries have reported the same problems for the last 10 years.

The new report recommends that the Board of Supervisors implement a “realistic and aggressive hiring strategy” to fill the currently vacant staff positions.

Responding to an inquiry from BenitoLink, Sheriff Eric Taylor said he was proud that the Civil Grand Jury recognized the staff as being professional and hard-working, and agreed with the report’s findings and recommendations. 

According to Taylor, the Community Corrections Partnership has funded four additional correctional officers, but he said low pay and substandard healthcare contributions by the county are the cause of the department’s recruitment and retention problems. 

“We simply cannot attract and keep staff,” he said, “when they can travel a short distance and make more money while also enjoying more resources.”

Taylor was hopeful that “the county can find a capital projects manager who can begin to plan for and tackle the many infrastructure issues we have. We have an obligation to our employees and those in our custody to provide a safe and healthy environment.”

California law requires a response to the presiding judge of the San Benito County Superior Court from the Sheriff’s Office within 60 days after the report is issued. The Board of Supervisors must respond within 90 days.

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