By Cody Drabble
When it comes to caring for pregnant jail inmates, Placer and Yolo counties lead by example, while Sacramento County is a big, fat question mark. That’s according to Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, an advocacy group that aims to improve conditions for incarcerated California residents.
In 2012, LSPC collaborated with Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins and Gov. Jerry Brown to update a 2005 law banning the use of leg irons, belly chains and handcuffs behind the back on pregnant inmates. The original law came after a 2004 incident in Contra Costa County, where a medical professional highlighted the risks of using restraints on an inmate appearing for maternity services.
After 11 months of monitoring, LSPC determined that only 21 counties fully complied with the new regulations. In last month’s “No More Shackles” report, the group also noted that the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, which manages the county’s jails, ignored numerous requests for public records. “Sacramento is one of the only three—and the largest of the 58—counties that did not respond to a Public Records Act request from March 2013,” said LSPC policy director Jesse Stout.
That finally changed, however, on March 5, when a sheriff’s deputy within the department’s legal affairs division sent a LSPC “extern” a short email saying it had no policy in place relating to the state law. “[C]onsequently, there will be no documents forthcoming,” the email concluded.
The Board of State and Community Corrections recorded zero instances of pregnant inmates being unlawfully or dangerously restrained since it started inspecting jails in 2012.
While Stout acknowledged there was no evidence of such violations, he hoped the report would encourage the remaining counties to be more forthcoming. “Hopefully, the word gets out that if there’s a violation, someone calls us, and then we can take appropriate action to work with the county to fix their policy … or have the BSCC fix their policy for them,” he said.
Nine counties in partial compliance relied on a national private contractor, Lexipol, to update their custody policy manuals, but the company failed to apply all the changes in the law.
Sacramento County has the fifth largest jail population in California, with 4,154 total prisoners, including 467 women.