Because of the pandemic, it’s been 18 months since inmates in the San Benito County jail have been able to visit in-person with family and friends. That will change Oct. 25, when in-person visitations return, according to Capt. Tony Lamonica of the Sheriff’s Department.
“I think it’s good for inmates to see their family members,” he said. “It’s face-to-face, but through glass on a phone.”
Inmates’ views of isolation
Fabian Maduena, 34, and Noah Boewer, 50, spoke to BenitoLink about being unable to visit with family and friends. Maduena said he has already served over 11 years’ hard time in four prisons and four jails for drunken driving. Boewer is facing prison for aggravated assault.
Maduena freely admits his issues with marijuana and alcohol destroyed his early ambitions to work in sports medicine after graduating from San Benito High School in 2005. Boewer, who is in jail following a DUI arrest in Hollister and was awaiting trial in Monterey for the assault at the time of the arrest, claims self-defense in that case, but was convicted. He hopes to have the DUI charge dismissed, but he will still go to prison for the assault.
Over the course of several months in jail, neither man has had any in-person contact with friends and family. Maduena’s mother, who lived in Hollister, has cancer, and has moved to Santa Monica to be with his niece. He has been able to communicate with his mother by phone each day. Before she left, he said she came to visit him, not knowing that in-person visitations were not allowed. He said when visitations are again permitted, he hopes she will be able to see her.
“My sister’s coming from Arizona this month to visit and that’s awesome,” he said.
“I’ve been able to visit with my mother, children, family members and friends over the phone and the tablet,” Boewer said. “They’ve never been able to visit me with all the lockdowns. When visiting is back, my family will come. I also have friends who live here and have been very supportive and believe in my innocence. I’m looking forward to seeing some familiar faces.”
As of Sept. 30, the total jail population at the San Benito County Jail was 83 inmates. Seventy are in the older main jail and 13 are in the new rehabilitation extension that doubled the size of the jail and increased the maximum capacity to 214 inmates. It was dedicated last June.
When Lamonica last spoke with BenitoLink in August 2020, he said that because of COVID-19 445 inmates, nearly half of the inmates, had been granted early release since March 9, depending on their charges and how much time they had left to serve. At that time, nearly 8,000 inmates were eligible for early release statewide, according to a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation press release. This was in addition to the 10,000 already released since the beginning of the pandemic.
The result of releasing hundreds of inmates is that now there is literally too much jail for too few deputies to monitor inmates who are spread out over a facility that is two football fields wide, according to Lamonica.
As inmates have had to adjust to being limited to visits over phones or tablets, the isolation has meant that inside the jail it’s been almost free of the coronavirus. While four deputies, including Lamonica, tested positive but were asymptomatic, no inmate already incarcerated has. Lamonica told BenitoLink that when new inmates arrive, they are isolated for two weeks before entering the general population.
Lamonica said visitors will have to wear masks, even though they will be separated by glass, and when they leave the room deputies will disinfect it. The next visitor will not be allowed to enter for at least an hour, which will seriously curtail the number of visitors each day.
Along with the return of visitors, Lamonica said educational programs will also start anew, which helps relieve tensions. He said inmates enjoy the classes, almost as much as they do going to court because it breaks up the monotony, which will help long-term when inmates are eventually released back into the community.
“We want this place to be open to reduce recidivism, to put these people back out in the community to be productive citizens,” he said.
“Having this new facility open and bringing some of the inmates here who qualify, we’re going to give them a GED class, we’re going give them writing skills, computer classes, and anger management classes, or they can take part in a water class in order to work with the city or county reading meters and stuff like that.”
He said the probation department works with inmates and attempts to find employment for them before they’re released.
“They also see counselors from Gavilan College, and if they get out before they complete a class they can continue it at the college on their own,” he said.
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