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Grand Jury Report Says Calaveras County Needs New Jail

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San Andreas, Ca — The Calaveras County Grand Jury has conducted an investigation and submitted a report in regards to the aging jail facility.

When it comes to safety and over crowding, the Jury says the only viable solution is to construct a new jail.

“I am extremely happy that they published a report to point out the problem,” says Sheriff Dennis Downum. “Basically they have pointed out the same problems that previous Grand Juries have pointed out, that we desperately need a new jail.”

Downum adds that the Board of Supervisors and the Sheriff´s Department are working to get the issue “off the table” for the Grand Jury.

The report was broken down into four sections. It reads as follows:

Finding One:

The Jail itself continues to be inadequate and obsolete due to the increase in crime and the age of the building. The Jail was constructed in the early 1960´s to incarcerate an inmate population of 47. The crime rate of Calaveras County continues to grow at a rapid pace, with no expansion feasible within the existing Jail structure. A court order mandates the capacity of the Jail not to exceed 65 inmates. As a result, the Sheriff frequently must initiate, and the inmates knowingly take advantage of, the early release program in order to make room for new prisoners. This becomes a public safety issue as some inmates bypass drug or other treatment programs because they will probably be released from jail early under the current system.

This adult jail facility continues to be the only jail within the county serving the Sheriffs Department, the City of Angels Police Department, as well as the local arrests initiated by the California Highway Patrol, Department of Fish and Game, and other State and Federal agencies as needed.

Finding Two:

The Grand Jury found the conditions of confinement under Federal, State and local laws, for the most part, are being met. However, since inmate recreation is provided via the enclosed recreation yard, writing materials, television, and library books, monitoring these activities has resulted in the utilization of additional deputy support from the field to meet the compliance regulations. This provision of additional deputy support to maintain inmate control does negatively impact the police response in the community by having less law enforcement officers available. The outer perimeter of the Jail continues to constitute a security and safety issue. There are no secure areas outside the Jail where the inmates are moved between vehicles, the Court House or the Jail itself.

Finding Three:

Security and safety issues still exist due to the physical layout of the jail. Blind spots hamper officers from visible observations of inmate and staff movement in certain locations within the jail. Other locations would not provide an entrance or exit route in an emergency situation should a fire erupt or during an inmate related disturbance. Most doors are only 24 inches wide, which do not meet current California building codes.

The Jail has not been able to comply with the American Disabilities Act due to cost and restructuring of the building. One option mentioned was to turn the two (men and women) rest rooms in the front of the building into one for use by both men and women. Additional manpower is required to monitor inmates arrested for substance abuse offenses; this restricts staff from monitoring the remainder of the inmates. Supplies and storage items lined the hallways making it difficult to pass without obstruction.

Finding Four:

On September 1, 2007 a rainstorm hit San Andreas causing a power outage. The Jail is normally equipped with a back up generator to handle this type of emergency. On this occasion the lights flickered and the generator failed causing damages to and loss of major electronics and equipment. These damages included disabling the 911 emergency call system, which is housed within the Jail building.

Inspection by a Sacramento electrical corporation revealed that with the existing connections, the electrical system has the potential for over-heating and complete failure.

The backup generator is antiquated and is not equipped with protective devices to prevent it from shutting down when there are power irregularities.

Damages are estimated at over $45,000.00 to date.


The Grand Jury recommends Calaveras County build a new jail. The Sheriff must continue to submit Federal and State grant requests to assist in this effort. The Board of Supervisors must present a complete funding plan to be released to the public by December 1, 2007.


The 2007 / 2008 Grand Jury agrees, with past Grand Jury findings, that the only viable solution is to construct a new jail. A proposal in the form of an architectural program and conceptual design for an adult detention facility and Sheriff s Administration building has been submitted to the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors. This proposal provides for the construction of a 240-bed adult detention facility, a new Sheriff s Administration building, and the associated site development. The Sheriff has submitted requests for grants at the Federal and State level to offset the major cost of constructing a new jail.

Written by BJ Hansen

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