SANTA BARBARA COUNTY COURT HOLDING FACILITIES

Figueroa Division Superior Court

 

INTRODUCTION

The Grand Jury's investigation of the Santa Barbara County Superior Court’s holding facilities included the study of operations and procedures, as well as the security of the courtrooms; the disembarking, loading and escorting of the inmates; the escape of a high-risk inmate, and the duty assignments of the courtroom bailiffs.

 

PROCEDURE

 The Grand Jury (GJ) reviewed previous GJ reports, the appropriate manuals, observed courtroom procedures, inspected all the facilities several times, observed the loading and unloading of inmates and  escorting of inmates. The GJ also observed the arrival and departure of the Sheriff’s vehicles. The GJ observed bailiffs performing clerical duties. Further, the GJ  had numerous interviews with all levels of the staff from officer and bailiff to commander.

 

BACKGROUND

A courtroom holding facility is a detention facility used for the temporary confinement of inmates for less than 24 hours who are making an appearance in court, pending release or awaiting transportation. There are four such facilities in Santa Barbara County.

No inmates are held overnight and only sack lunches are provided. Special dietary requirements are met. There are holding facilities for the two Superior Courts in the city of Santa Barbara and also holding cells for the Lompoc and Santa Maria Superior Courts.

The Transportation Bureau of the Branch Jails Division is made up of 15 correction officers, one senior officer, two sergeants and one lieutenant. Correction officers are responsible for the security of the holding cells and supervising the inmates in the courtroom gallery besides transporting the inmates.  Bailiffs are primarily responsible for the security of the courtroom, handling documents in court, and are sometimes involved in supervising and escorting the inmates from their cells to the courtroom. Bailiffs have the same training as  sheriff’s deputies. There are 24 bailiffs, four senior deputies, two sergeants and one lieutenant assigned to the courts.

Over 47,000 inmates were transported to their courtroom appearances this past year. Of these, many inmates were transported multiple times. Four buses and seven vans are used in transporting inmates from the jails to the holding cells and back. A correction officer drives while another stands guard in the bus. There is only one officer present in the van. Sheriff’s radio frequencies are available in the vehicles and are connected to dispatch. The portable radios worn by the correction officers allow communication only with other correction officers. In case of an emergency in the holding cells or while disembarking inmates, control officers in the holding cells must contact dispatch by phone for assistance or to report an escape. Transportation begins at 6 a.m. and could end as late as 9 p.m.

Inmates usually wear colored coveralls to identify their status and risk. Inmates vary greatly in their threat and are becoming more experienced and dangerous. Colored identification bracelets are also worn. These also inform the officers of the classification of the inmates: a white bracelet indicates general population and low risk inmates, a red indicates an officer safety or other management problem, a blue indicates a third strike inmate and a yellow bracelet an escape risk. A photograph and a booking number are also included on the bracelets to insure positive identification.

In transit,  inmates always wear handcuffs. Those who pose an escape risk, are combative, or represent other high-risk problems, will also wear leg irons. A knee brace that restricts movement can be issued to inmates that wear civilian clothing in court. Inmates typically are chained together with two to five man chains while being transported. Men are always separated from female inmates.

 

COMMENDATIONS

The Board of Corrections report indicated 100 percent compliance for all the inspected detention facilities. The capacities of the holding cells are seldom exceeded.

 

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Finding 1:  The inmates do not always wear colored coveralls, while they are being transported.

Recommendation 1:  All inmates should wear coveralls while they are being transported and a space provided, in the holding facility, to change to civilian clothes, when so ordered by the judge.

Finding 2:  Kill buttons, flashing red lights, and radio/audio alarms are not installed on all vehicles.

Recommendation 2:  Kill buttons, flashing red lights and radio/audio alarms should be installed on all vehicles.

Finding 3:  Cloth seat covers are sometimes used in vehicles.

Recommendation 3:  Only washable plastic seatcovers should be used for vehicles.

Finding 4:  Correction officers in the holding cells have no radio linking them with the Sheriffs’ Emergency Dispatch Center.

Recommendation 4:  Radios in the holding cells should be available to the correction officers so immediate communication can be established with the Sheriff's Emergency Dispatch Center in case of an emergency.

 

Lompoc Division

This will be a new facility, scheduled to open later this year, that will have a capacity of 40 inmates. The inmates will no longer be walked 45 open and public yards from their cells to the courtroom, since the new cells are adjacent and now part of the courtroom complex. An enclosed sallyport [a sallyport is an area where inmates load or disembark from the Sheriff’s vehicles] will be included, so the vans can unload inmates with security. Unfortunately, this sallyport will be too small to accommodate a bus. Rather, they will still disembark from the buses in an open and public alleyway that has continuous two-way pedestrian and vehicular traffic. (Figure 1)

Figure 1. Lompoc Division's alleyway

 

Finding 5:  There are no visual alerts or warnings for the casual driver or unwitting pedestrian when inmates are disembarking in the alleyway from the bus. This could endanger the public and place the officers at risk.

Recommendation 5:  Flashing red lights should be installed and used by all vehicles unloading and loading inmates, in the alleyway, to alert and warn the foot and vehicular traffic.

Santa Maria Division

This is a modern and exemplary facility. It has 12 cells capable of holding 114 inmates. The entrances are unobtrusive and not noticed by a casual observer.  The sallyport (Figure 2) is capable of holding a large bus. Inmates are positively secured while disembarking in this enclosed sallyport, being escorted to their cells, and later taken to their courtroom appearance in a special elevator for the Miller Street Courtrooms. These inmates are not a threat to the public and the officers are safe from outside observation and interference. Inmates making an appearance in the Cook Street courtrooms are escorted  through the open halls and public walkways of the complex.

Figure 2. Santa Maria Division's  sallyport

 

COMMENDATION

This is a model installation and sallyport that should be the standard for the other county facilities.

Finding 6:  The proximity of the parked cars south of the sallyport entrance interferes with the maneuverability of the buses.  (Figure 3)

Recommendation 6:  Eliminate the designated parking area that adversely affects the maneuverability of the sheriff’s vehicle.

Figure 3. Santa Maria Division's sallyport entrance

Finding 7:  A pedestrian doorway number 149 on the west side of sallyport, is not monitored by a video camera, as the other doors are.

Recommendation 7:  Install a video camera to monitor doorway number 149

Finding 8:  The hard surfaces of the walls, floors and ceiling all contribute to a high level of noise, which the GJ members found disturbing and irritating.

Recommendation 8:  Correct the acoustics so that the sound is at an acceptable level.

Figueroa Division, Santa Barbara

This is one of the two holding facilities for the superior courts in Santa Barbara. It was built in 1992 and is the newest, with eight cells capable of holding 60 inmates. This capacity is exceeded about once a month.  Inmates being transported, disembark in a very open and non-secure sallyport, which is part of a public and well used driveway. Figure 4 shows the driveway and Figure 5 shows a bus in the driveway when used as a sallyport. Gates at the front and rear of the bus enclose the sallyport while inmates disembark.

The public is endangered and the officers are vulnerable to outside interference and observation by the present conditions of the sallyport. On September 16, 1999 a high risk sex offender briefly escaped from custody before being captured by correction officers several blocks away. He was disembarking a van in this sallyport when he fled. He wore only handcuffs, no leg-irons [contrary to the Sheriff’s Policy] and was in civilian clothes, by order of the Judge of the court.

Figure 4. Figueroa Division's present driveway

Figure 5. Present sallyport with bus and gates in place.

With the gates open, the sallyport reverts to a driveway. It allows pedestrian and vehicular traffic to and from the rear parking lot, which also opens to Carrillo Street. The Fire Department requires access when the sallyport is not utilized. At present, the media, curious onlookers and casual passersby can have very close proximity to the sometimes well known or notorious disembarking inmates and their supervising officers. Neither flashing lights nor audible alarms are used and, because of this, inadvertent intrusion of the operations could occur. This openness places the public in jeopardy and greatly distracts and interferes with the correction officer’s duties and obligations. Enclosing and properly gating this sallyport would alleviate these problems. A fence placed atop the present wall will be installed this year but the small gate will be unchanged. This offers only a temporary and less than satisfactory solution. The GJ proposes a more permanent and suitable alternative for this sallyport. Figures 6 and 7 illustrate this improvement. This new configuration would insure the necessary security and safety of the public and maximum control of the inmates by the correction officers, while keeping the driveway open at other times.

Figure 6. Figueroa Division's proposed sallyport, door open

Figure 7. Figueroa Division’s proposed sallyport, door closed

 

Finding 9:  The present sallyport is unsafe and endangers both the public and the correction officers. This failing has been cited by previous grand juries.

Recommendation 9:  Enclose the present sallyport with an acceptable and permanent construction.

 

Anacapa Division, Santa Barbara

The holding facilities are on the third floor of the Santa Barbara courthouse, built in 1928, and contain eight cells with a capacity of 42 inmates It is an outdated and antiquated linear [barred] facility that is in a dilapidated and extremely poor condition (Figure 8). Heat is supplied to the holding facility by portable heaters. Also, the plumbing is unsanitary and inadequate. Female inmates must wait in a segregated barred anteroom. The bathroom is in the cellblock and available only to one inmate at a time, who must call an officer to open the door to the cells. Women inmates have one working toilet and no water for drinking and handwashing.  All the cells are available to the men inmates but not all the toilets work and again there is no water for drinking or handwashing. Access to this third floor facility is via a keyed elevator. This elevator has a secure foldable divider, separating the officers from the inmates. Though there is no sallyport, the gated basement level parking garage is used to unload the inmates and park the vans. This serves to somewhat limit outside observation and interference but public walkways must then be used. Later, inmates being escorted to their courtroom appearance  from their cells, must walk the hallways amongst the county workers and tourists. 

Finding 10:  Not all the cells have working toilets and none have water for drinking and handwashing.

Recommendation 10:  Bring the cells up to the city’s plumbing code so inmates have a sanitary facility with working toilets and running water.

Finding 11:  Portable electric floor heaters are utilized with their long cords exposed, posing a potential safety hazard.

Recommendation 11:  Install permanent infra-red ceiling heaters.

Figure 8. Anacapa Division's men’s cell

 

COMMENDATIONS

The GJ wishes to thank the Correction Officers and Bailiffs assigned to the holding facilities and courtrooms. We sincerely appreciate all their assistance.

An automated radio alarm system is installed in the Anacapa Division and is planned for the Figueroa Division. The system will be available for the judges, clerks and other personnel and will automatically broadcast to all Bailiffs the location of the problem.

Finding 12:  The Superior Courts at the Anacapa Division and at Cook Street in Santa Maria, require the Bailiffs to perform clerical duties that the Figueroa Division and Miller Street courtroom Bailiffs are not assigned. These additional obligations distract them and take their complete attention away from their primary duties of securing the courtroom.

Recommendation 12:  Reexamine the additional clerical duties assigned to the Anacapa and the Cook Street courtroom bailiffs, so their extra assignments can be alleviated or eliminated.

Finding 13:  The courtroom radio alarm system does not alert the correction officers or the Sheriff’s Emergency Dispatch Center and is not included in all of the courtrooms in the other divisions.

Recommendation 13:  Connect the new alarm system to include the correction officers along with the bailiffs, in the courtrooms new alarm system and install this system in all the courtrooms in all the divisions.

 

AFFECTED AGENCIES

Board of Supervisors
Finding 6
Recommendation 6

Sheriff  Department
Findings 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13
Recommendations 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13