Officers allege jail changes endanger them
SAN JOSE » The union that represents Santa Clara County jail officers has filed an unfair labor practices complaint claiming Sheriff Laurie Smith’s administration failed to give notice of a dozen workplace changes that jeopardize their safety.
Among the contested changes is allowing inmates to wear deck shoes rather than slippers outside their cells. Deck shoes offer violent inmates a tactical advantage in fights because they provide a better grip than the usual flipflops inmates wear, according to the complaint to the state Public Employment Relations Board.
Jail officials noted that San Mateo County inmates wear deck shoes without any adverse impact.
The labor complaint makes 11 other claims and requests an injunction to bar the changes. One of the union’s allegations is that Smith’s administration recently changed procedures for when a deputies’ radio system goes
“We support the reforms in the jail. However, they have to ensure the safety of staff and inmates while these changes are being made. And that is not happening.” — Amy Le, president of the Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers Association.
In the past, the jail would be locked down because officers would have no way to call for help if an inmate attacked someone. Now, the guards have been directed to continue moving inmates, including bringing them to medical and outside service-provider visits.
“It’s unfortunate that it had to come to this,” said
Amy Le, president of the Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers Association. “The CPOA made many attempts to work with the department, but the jails have gotten so dangerous we had to take action.”
“We support the reforms in the jail,” Le added. “However, they have to ensure the safety of staff and inmates while these changes are being made. And that is not happening currently.”
Some of the changes the union objects to were
called for by a blue-ribbon commission convened to evaluate the jails after three guards beat to death mentally ill inmate Michael Tyree in August 2015. Lawsuits filed by disability and inmate rights groups also prompted some of the changes.
Smith responded to the labor complaint by saying the new practices are aimed at bringing the jails into step on many of commission’s recommendations for reform.
“As Sheriff, I along with our new chief of correction, am firmly committed to both ensuring the safety of all custody staff and ensuring that inmates are treated fairly and accorded the appropriate level of privileges,” Smith said in a statement. “These commitments require transformative change to move beyond the old mindset of ‘lock them up and throw away the key,’ and we will continue to balance our primary mission of safety for our deputies while providing a more rehabilitative custody environment.”
The union contends that
the sheriff also has eliminated so-called “custody inputs,” written cards that correctional officers fill out to document inmate conduct, including any gang ties or mental health issues. The cards helped determine where inmates were housed, and the union claims that eliminating them imperils their members. The Sheriff’s Office disputes that claim, and says that “CI’s” are just being more carefully screened.
Smith acknowledged that there are violent inmates who “require much more stringent oversight by our deputies.” But she also noted that “the overwhelming majority of inmates in our custody will be released back into society and we can either do our best to safely provide programs and opportunities to them while in our custody, or contribute to a revolving door of a criminal justice system that makes our neighborhoods less safe.”