Organizers say they’re staging the action, which starts this morning, in solidarity with nationwide protests against racist policing and to demand better conditions behind bars, including more out-of-cell time and thorough investigations of grievances.
Jose Valle—a spokesman for the inmates and organizer for civil rights nonprofit Silicon Valley De-Bug—submitted a list of demands to journalists, jail officials and local leaders Thursday, saying one of the overarching goals is to call attention to racism and prejudice in the Santa Clara County criminal justice system.
“Specifically,” he wrote in a letter describing the inmates’ concerns, “the unjust practice of the Three Strikes law and gang enhancements statue that exists solely to impose extreme sentences predominantly upon Black and brown people.”
The inmates also want to condemn police brutality, Valle added, and remind everyone how local law enforcement agencies have been slow, if not unwilling, to release officers’ disciplinary records as required by SB 1421.
The Sheriff’s Office in particular, according to the hunger strikers, has shown “blatant disregard” for oversight by refusing to cooperate with the fledgling Santa Clara County Office of Corrections and Law Enforcement Monitoring (OCLEM)—a unit created in response to inmate Michael Tyree’s murder in 2015 by three jail guards.
In a separate letter to local leaders and the public, the inmates spell out the following six problems in local jails and proposals for how to fix them.
- Lack of out-of-cell time due to unnecessary lockdowns.
- PROBLEM: When there is an incident (such as a fight, or a refusal to lock down) in one area of the jail, the entire facility is placed on lockdown as [correctional officers] from the rest of the units respond to said incident. It is not necessary for officers from every floor and every unit to respond to these isolated incidents leaving the rest of the units locked down for excessive periods of time. When an incident occurs in one unit, the officers from that floor are capable of responding to the scene and addressing the situation without affecting the operations and out of cell time in the units on other floors—unless circumstances require additional officers.
- SOLUTION: Stop exaggerated responses to small scale isolated incidents which result in unnecessary facility wide lockdowns and resume normal operations for out of cell time for affected areas once the situation is handled and under control.
- Lack of meaningful program opportunities.
- PROBLEM: Many inmates are deprived of rehabilitative opportunities due to lack of programs offered in their housing units. Even prior to Covid-19 the program units had cut back and cancelled many programs, and in the non-program units there are essentially no programs other than the 5 Keys high school diploma class. The Sheriff’s Office has the ability to implement more educational and rehabilitative programs such as college, vocational, arts and crafts, trauma recovery, enneagrams, parenting, relationship skills, self-help, and others which ultimately serves the best interest of institutional safety and security as well as the public safety.
- SOLUTION: Offer more meaningful program opportunities and make them available to all inmates—not just those in select housing units.
- Unfair and meaningless grievance system.
- PROBLEM: Inmates’ grievances are routinely “resolved” with vague and meaningless responses that do not address the issues being grieved. Moreover, the grievance unit (which was created to improve the grievance process) does nothing more than reaffirm staff’s responses to our grievances stating that the grievance was received and is now resolved. Grievance appeals are almost always denied or in favor of staff and /or unjust jail policies and receive the same vague and meaningless responses. It is clear from the negligent manner in which our grievances are handled that the grievance unit is biased and that our complaints are not taken seriously.
- SOLUTION: Thoroughly investigate each grievance and address its core issue(s) before “resolving” it and allow inmates to appeal to OCLEM for an unbiased review.
- Unjust restrictions on inmate trust accounts.
- PROBLEM: The current policy only allows inmates to release funds from their accounts twice (no more than $100 each time) throughout their entire incarceration. This unjustly limits our ability to access/release our personal property. We do not dispute the sheriff’s right to impose limitations and restrictions on the withdrawal/deposits of inmate trust accounts. However, these restrictions present an exaggerated response to the sheriff’s concern of inmates being victims of illicit activities i.e. extortion—especially when the property release procedures themselves already include safeguards to protect inmates from being extorted such as : (a) the person picking up the property having to present California ID, (b) CSA staff bringing the release authorization form to the inmate while correctional staff supervises, and (c) the inmate having the ability to either accept or deny the release. The current policy doesn’t just restrict releases … it prohibits them after that initial $200.
- SOLUTION: End the prohibition and unreasonable restrictions on the release of inmate trust account funds.
- Inadequate, ineffective access to law library/legal research and resources.
- PROBLEM: The California code of regulations requires local detention facilities to develop a program where inmates have “access to legal reference materials.” This jails agreement with Legal Research Associates (LRA) does not satisfy these requirements. The LRA only allows us to request five items at a time and those materials are not delivered until five to seven days later. Also, we are commonly denied research materials such as certain laws, initiatives, rules, and regulations as it “exceeds the scope of LRAs agreement with this facility.” This is not an effective way to conduct legal research and does not allow us sufficient access to legal reference materials and resources.
- SOLUTION: Improve LRAs response time to our legal research requests, expand LRAs agreement to include the materials and resources we need, and develop a program to provide inmates with a Law Library Electronic Delivery System which enables inmates to access WestLaw, and LexisNexis.
- Unreasonable and illogical restrictions on inmates’ access to jail phones.
- PROBLEM: On July 30, the jail shut off half the phones in each unit in order to meet social distancing requirements. The phones themselves are more than six feet apart and do not violate the [Santa Clara County] Public Health Department’s social distancing order. The phones were not impacted the past four months during the Covid-19 pandemic and should not be impacted now. Shutting off the phones does nothing to protect inmates or reduce the spread of the virus… All it does is limit our ability to communicate with our families, loved ones and attorneys and further antagonizes the inmate population.
- SOLUTION: Reactivate the phones immediately.
The Sheriff’s Office declined to address the specific demands of inmates.
Instead, agency spokeswoman Officer Jessica Gabaldon shared the following statement: “The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office is aware of the planned hunger strike that is set to begin … We take the health and welfare of those in our care seriously and we will work closely with Custody Health Services regarding those who elect to participate. Our office will continue to work to address and resolve concerns related to jail operations.”