Factual Conditions Exposed at Sierra County Detention Facility

By Lorri Ooley

HERALD Reporter

The morning of Monday, Nov. 10, Sierra County Manager Bruce Swingle and Detention Administrator Virginia Lee facilitated a tour of the recently closed detention facility for the press. Swingle and Lee guided press through the facility in the same method that inmates would have traveled. This allowed for both to highlight the compounding and specific contributing factors in the ultimate decision for its closure at the end of October.

The issues for the facility appear to be classified between structural problems and internal problems. Starting from the exterior, the facility itself poses concern, as there is minimal security between the general populace and those being detained.

This is found through several doors leading into the facility, the first point of entrance – used for booking – second, the kitchen door – to which inmates have unsecured access to – third, recreation holding area – with nothing barring the general public from interacting with inmates directly – and, fourth, roof-way access – which the facility utilizes to avoid moving inmates through the internal structure.

Certain areas within these points both had a lack of barrier between the general public and inmates, but also had internal issue of lack of observation for the officers. The combination provided the opportunity for contraband to be transferred between outside and inside the facility.

Once inside the main entrance, the point of processing a detainee through booking, the structure of the facility offers extremely minimal security for both the detainee and officer staff. This is seen through the exposure of five internal doors that lead into the internal structure. There is no separation from the booking area to these other areas except for controlled-locked doors.

This poses a security threat for both controlling the person being processed through booking, anyone being transported to other areas of the facility, but also the personnel security for both the facility and local officers.

From booking, the inmate and detention personnel would have two options for movement into the holding areas, and the gender of the inmate would determine which route would be taken.

If female, the inmate would have to travel through two controlled-locked doors, traveling through other-purposed room, before entering the area in which they would be housed.

If male, the inmate would travel through a corner of the kitchen – with a single camera and the majority of the area completely obstructed from observation – to the solitary area.

Depending on the booking charge, the detainee would either reside in the solitary cells, which could hold up to two individuals at a time, or be taken further into the facility to the two other larger inmate housing rooms. If the latter, the inmate and detention officer would have to travel through another other-purposed room, into an obstructed-from-view stairwell, before gaining access to the 18-man holding cell.

If, instead, the male inmate was being held in the 10-man cell, he would still have to travel through the 18-man cell to do so.

The other option available would be to move the male inmate through the external route, which offers very little security once the recreational area is cleared. The pathway from the recreational area to the second-floor 10-man cell is a walkway that has no overhead barrier, which allows for the opportunity for escape onto the roof, and if the inmate was so inclined, the ability to climb down the gutter system leading off the roof.

This exterior door has posed additional safety concerns for the facility, as inmates have had direct access to the electrical wiring system – due to the construction of the facility itself – which has allowed for them to be able to control the operation of the door themselves.

To read the rest of this article, contact us at 575/894-2143 or at herald@torcherald.com for an e-subscription.



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