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Chair Nathan Fletcher on Friday docketed an emergency action to help prevent drug overdose deaths in County jails – in July there were five overdose deaths. The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will consider the recommendations to accelerate staff hiring for the jails using compensation incentives, identify ways to improve the inmate wellness check process, and purchase new body scanners to help identify drugs being brought into the jails. As outlined in the policy, the Sheriff’s Department would incur all the costs to implement these measures.   

“Incarcerated individuals should not be allowed to die in our jails and we have a responsibility as a Board to not stand-by and watch it happen,” said Chair Fletcher. “We have an obligation as policymakers to work with the Sheriff’s Department to ensure they have every resource possible to stop the deaths, and we have an obligation to the families of the incarcerated to do everything we can to keep them safe while they are in custody.”  

Jail deaths have been a challenge for the Sheriff’s Department in recent years, but there is a shift in how individuals are dying. Many deaths in the past were attributed to suicide or poor medical care, but while improvements are underway to prevent those deaths, illicit drugs including Fentanyl have been the problem lately. 

The vote scheduled for Tuesday is not the first time Chair Fletcher has used his platform as a Supervisor to sound the alarm needed for improvements in the County jails. Examples of his past actions include:  

  • In October of 2019, he requested a review of best practices of jail operations and a compilation of recommendations for how the system could improve, many of which are currently underway. 
  • In June of 2020, he introduced a proposal to expand the authority of the Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) to increase the ability for civilian oversight of jail operations, and to support CLERB with adequate staffing and resources. 
  • In August of 2020, he brought forward a competing proposal to the then-Sheriff’s proposal to completely privatize medical care in the jails, which could have led to further endangerment of incarcerated individuals. His competing plan failed to get Board support, but ultimately the plan for privatization was later abandoned. 
  • In 2021, along with new Board members, came an increased focus and additional measures to address concerns in jails, including budget priorities to ensure adequate staffing to provide additional behavioral health and medical health for those incarcerated. 
  • In March of 2022, following a State audit that outlined concerns and recommendations related to the care provided in San Diego County jails, Chair Fletcher and Vice Chair Vargas brought forward a proposal to accept the report, pursue the recommendations in the audit, and support legislation that increased standards of care for incarcerated individuals. 
  • In recognition of the staffing shortages and pressures on staff within the jails, in June 2022, the Board approved efforts to explore how to address staffing challenges for public safety officers, including those in detention facilities. As a result of these efforts, at the August 16 Board meeting, there will be proposed updates to the Compensation Ordinance that would create new incentives and classifications to address some of the drastic needs for jail staffing, including medical and behavioral health staff.

Read the entire policy here