Santa Clara County

Santa Clara County Main Jail Provides ‘Complaint' Boxes for Inmates

Efforts to improve the so-called grievance procedure for inmates comes after harsh criticism

It is now easier and presumably safer for inmates at California's Santa Clara County Main Jail to make complaints about the treatment by correctional officers and living conditions.

The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department's efforts to improve the so-called grievance procedure for inmates comes after harsh criticism this weekend by the Blue Ribbon Commission.

More than 100 lockboxes with complaint forms were installed throughout the jail starting Saturday, allowing inmates to now drop in complaints and bypassing the officers who watch them.

Prior to Monday's change in the grievance procedure, all inmates were not only supposed to request the complaint forms from the so-called officers on duty, but also turn them into those officers even if that correctional deputy was the focus of the complaint.

"How can they do it anonymously without facing retaliation by somebody watching them do it?" Sheriff Laurie Smith said. "Well the sergeant will have it. The person that perhaps they're complaining about will not have the grievance and won't be the one who collects the grievance."

The sheriff insists the move is not a response to this weekend's Blue Ribbon Commission hearing. In the hearing, the commission attorneys reported after talking with 690 of the 944 inmates interviewed, the top complaint is that formal and even informal grievance procedures are "broken."

The attorneys also said the lack of confidence made it difficult to get inmates to complain about the complaint process.

Smith points out drop boxes were purchased months before the hearing, but acknowledges more can and should be done to address complaints.

"You find that most grievances really have to do with an issue they have internally in the jail, but they also do complain about staff on that," Smith said. "And so that's why we implemented this."

The sheriff also emphasized that inmates can still report emergencies to the internal affairs unit and the jail observer program. As NBC Bay Area previously reported, a group testifying before the Blue Ribbon Commission is calling for many other changes, including independent supervision of the jail.

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