Prison reform advocates say Santa Rita Jail in Dublin needs more oversight after four jail guards were charged with felonies for allegedly abusing eight inmates last year.
Three current and one former guard are accused of allowing an inmate to spray feces and urine into cells onto other inmates housed in a maximum security unit. Two of them are also accused of conspiring to silence a witness and one is also accused of choking an inmate.
Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern said the alleged abuse comes down to, essentially, a few bad apples.
“We are talking about four employees out of a staff of 500 that work within the jail,” he said.
Advocates say jails need high-level accountability to prevent such abuses.
For instance, jail commanders who model respect toward prisoners, create programming for inmates and schedule reasonable hours for guards, said attorney Ernest Galvan, who specializes in cases regarding prison conditions for Rosen, Bien, Galvan & Grunfeld.
“Anytime that one group of people has total control over the lives of another group of people, it’s corrosive for both sides,” Galvan said.
Ahern contends existing audits and accountability measures at the jail are working.
Other advocates, like Ella Baker Center for Human Rights Executive Director Zachary Norris, said the county should re-route money from the jail to community services to keep people from being locked up.
“There is a need for true structural change that moves away from the dehumanization of folks inside and towards a culture of care….(like) mental health services and other necessary community-based solutions,” Norris wrote in a statement.
Ahern said diverting money away from his department will mean less staff and more incidents. He said he doesn’t believe there is a cultural problem within the department or at Santa Rita jail.
While Ahern’s internal investigation into his own guards led to the recent charges, it hasn’t prompted any specific changes within the jail. However, the sheriff’s department has been making changes, including a change of command and increased surveillance of guard interactions with inmates.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’ Malley has called the alleged abuse of people under the guards’ protection “sadistic and terrorizing” acts.
This week, at her request, a judge nearly doubled Justin Linn and Erik McDermott’s bail to more than $300,000. The two have until Sept. 11 to pay the increase, during a hearing when they are expected to plea alongside fellow defendants Stephen Sarcos and Sarah Krause.