Blue Ribbon Commission for County Jails Seeks Applications

Santa Clara County is accepting applications for a commission that will examine local jails in response to the fatal beating of a mentally ill inmate.

The 25-member blue ribbon commission—formed by a unanimous Board of Supervisors vote earlier this week—will conduct a top-down review of the county’s custody operations and suggest ways to improve it.

“We are empowering these commissioners to hear testimony, review documents and be able to call on county staff to answer questions and provide information,” Supervisor Dave Cortese said in a statement. “We’re putting all hands on deck.”

Sheriff Laurie Smith, who oversees the Department of Corrections, also plans to install more surveillance cameras, promote an inmate hotline and grant more access to volunteer clergy and inmate advocates.

The blue ribbon commission will hold a series of public meetings to evaluate the current state of Elmwood and the Main Jail, and discuss which policies and procedures need reform. Commissioners will hear testimony from the public and will meet regularly for six months.

On Aug. 27, 31-year-old Michael Tyree, locked up on a petty theft charge, was found bloodied and lifeless on the floor of his cell. In the ensuing week, Smith arrested three correctional officers—Jereh Lubrin, Matthew Farris and Rafael Rodriquez—and accused them of murder. The District Attorney’s Office formally charged the trio days later.

“We have an obligation to operate our custody facilities in an open and transparent manner in holding with the highest standards of legality, safety and decency,” Supervisor Cindy Chavez said.

The commission will include two supervisors, Chief of Correction John Hirokawa, a retired or active judge, mental health experts, clergy, advocates from civil rights, women’s rights and inmate rights groups, custody staff, inmate relatives, former inmates and the general public. Smith will also sit on the panel, along with Public Defender Molly O’Neal, Chief Probation Officer Laura Garnette, District Attorney Jeff Rosen and Behavioral Health Director Toni Tullys.

Originally, the commission was to include 17 members, but Cortese asked to expand it to 25.

“The public will be best served by a larger and more diverse body,” Cortese said.

The application period will close the evening of Friday, Oct. 16. Cortese, as board president, will appoint members two weeks after the application period closes.

For more information, call Cortese’s office at 408.299.5030. Click here to print the application.

2 Comments

  1. I’ve applied to city commissions in the past. I was willing to volunteer my time and energy to sincerely try to find effective solutions to whatever problem that particular commission was addressing.

    They’re not interested in that. I was young and naive. They have the recommendation in mind that they want, and the commission is populated by head-nodders who will faithfully promote those recommendations.

    I think commissions are officially referred to as “dog and pony shows”. Their overriding priority is to provide protection for TPTB (the powers that be). And if a head absolutely must roll, it will be an underling; never one of TPTB.