By Tony A. Archuleta
Newly-hired Sierra County Detention Facility Administrator Virginia Lee’s monthly report to the County Commission garnered applause from county officials and audience members alike during Wednesday’s, Oct. 22, special meeting.
Lee, a formerly retired California corrections officer, was hired in September to address multiple issues that have been brought to light in the past year, including security breaches and allegations of wrongdoing on the part of certain inmates and jail staff under a previous administrator who has since been fired.
Acknowledging that the jail has been under extra scrutiny in recent months, Lee indicated she and her staff are leading the charge in taking the closest look at all aspects of facility operations.
Lee said she’s hired a new supervisor and two officers at the detention center, which is part of the Sierra County Courthouse complex on North Date Street.
“Training is really important, and we have been having formalized training every week,” she told the commission.
Lee thanked the Sheriff’s Office for certifying staff on the use of pepper spray; the Truth or Consequences Police Department for training staff on investigations, report writing and ethics; and County Manager Bruce Swingle for leading a session on workplace professionalism.
This week, proper handcuffing techniques and defensive tactics are on the training schedule, according to Lee.
Lee said staff is also being trained on dispensing medications to inmates, although she’s working to secure services from a medical provider to oversee those responsibilities long-term.
Inmates housed in the facility’s Special Management Unit are being monitored more closely, with a new logging system in place, she said.
The phone system available for inmate use has been reconfigured to ensure that telephonic conversations with attorneys are kept private. It’s been a pressing concern among the inmate population, according to Lee.
Lee also thanked the county’s maintenance department for recent HVAC and electrical systems upgrades, as well as interior touch-up work.
The commission and Sierra Vista Hospital recently inked an agreement for telemedicine services, and Lee said the installation of video conferencing equipment is nearly complete.
A day earlier, Lee said she visited with representatives from the state Public Health Department, which has offered to set up a one-bed clinic in the facility to provide biweekly medical lab testing services for inmates. The service is free of charge to the county.
Lee is also working with the District Attorney’s office to train staff on the filing of criminal complaints.
“One of the things we want to do is be very proactive about filing criminal complaints on inmates who are conducting any type of misconduct in the facility,” she said.
Commissioners Walter Armijo, Bobby Allen and Frances Luna commended Lee’s early efforts.
“Great job, wonderful news,” Luna said, prompting a round of applause in the commission chambers.