Sheriff Smith Releases Plan to Reform Santa Clara County Jails

Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith released a long-awaited plan to curb violence and improve conditions at the region's two local jails.

The proposal comes after a series of scandals in the county’s jails, including the alleged murder of a mentally ill inmate at the hands of three guards.

Smith laid out 13 goals, including more training for correctional deputies and more classes for inmates, in a report presented Wednesday to the county’s Public Safety and Justice Committee. She wants to raise the minimum qualifications for prospective corrections deputies to require at least some college credits and criminal justice or mental health expertise. And instead of one lie detector test, she wants two.

The 26-page plan would create permanent independent oversight through a civilian board and inspector general. The civilian committee would include nine members—five picked by the Board of Supervisors and four selected by the commission.

Smith’s proposal comes eight months after mentally ill inmate Michael Tyree’s fatal beating, allegedly at the hands of three jailors. Tyree’s death put the county’s Department of Corrections (DOC) under the microscope, before several arrests and the disclosure of numerous racist texts between correction officers.

The county formed a special commission in September to investigate San Jose’s Main Jail and Elmwood in Milpitas. The Prison Law Office, a nonprofit prison rights watchdog, then filed a class-action lawsuit accusing the county of brutality, overusing solitary confinement and failing to provide adequate medical and mental healthcare for inmates.

In a letter to the public safety subcommittee, Smith and Undersherriff John Hirokawa said many of the reforms in the new plan were set in motion before Tyree’s death. Still, the letter acknowledges, his death was a catalyst to move quicker.

“As you know, our inmate population is changing and we are tasked with safely managing more inmates in need of mental health services and those incarcerated for more serious crimes, with lengthier sentences,” they wrote. “Our custody staff, supervisors, command staff and our facilities must strive to safely and humanely accommodate this changing inmate population.”

The plan would overhaul the way the county classifies inmates. Past reviews of the jail found that the county often overstated an inmate’s security risk, which puts them in an overly restrictive environment. The proposal would also move low-risk and pretrial inmates to a “minimum camp” at Elmwood.

Internal Affairs, which takes inmate complaints about staff, would speed up investigations by expanding staff and improve accountability by publicly posting quarterly reports of all incidents. New software would track trends and help DOC flag misconduct.

Smith has been criticized for being reactive throughout the last year. Earlier this month, as the Mercury News reported, the special jails commission questioned her motives in buying surveillance cameras for the Main Jail out of pocket.

The day after she installed the cameras, an inmate brawl erupted and was captured on video. Commission chair LaDoris Cordell, a retired Superior Court judge and San Jose's former police auditor, suggested the timing seemed a little convenient. The sheriff fired back, criticizing Cordell for calling on an outside consultant investigate the fight.

A week earlier, two reports from outside consultants identified “critical failures” in the jail grievance process. Cordell asked the county to pay for a more in-depth review of the problems highlighted in those reports.

To read Smith's entire reform plan, click here. For a timeline of proposed changes, click here.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. I’ve been asked by people close to the blue ribbon commission to come down and testify on Saturday. Sorry for the messy links, but SJI doesn’t allow the href tag.

    Unfortunately the clearance model Lauri bought is exploitable to hacking. This brings up many concerns. The type of hack isn’t *just* access to the cameras, it will wholly give an attack full control over the linux based box. From there, they can use it to scan the rest of the network and find other exploits.

    Even without the exploit, Lorex’s only accept a 0-9 six digit password. In laymans terms, this means a computer only has to try 10,000 times to get the correct password to view the cameras. Remember, a phone in your pocket is usually running a Ghz processor, or 1000 Hz. This means that every second that passes, that processor can count to 1000. If it’s a quad core, then it’s 4000 counts per second. This means even on very low end hardware, we’re talking the ability to brute force the password in seconds, because it’s so simple.

    There’s a lot of procedural things that aren’t really clear. Like, what are the IT policies for bringing hardware in? What policies are in place to make sure that this hardware isn’t susceptible to attacks like the ones I mentioned above. I’m sure the IT staff wants to make sure the hardware can integrated into pre-existing central authentication (LDAP or Active DIrectory)

    I don’t know if this is true or not, but I understand the Sheriff’s runs it’s own IT department, instead of using the County IT. These Lorex systems only come with a weeks worth of video. What procedure, if any is in place to make sure that video is avaliable for the district attorney, or Dolores should they need it?

    Finally, it just seems too convenient that a day after the camera was put up, there was a fight. I should also mention that cameras weren’t place where an innmate was killed in psych ward, but a floor or two above in genpop.

  2. It is so time for her to retire. Her buying cameras was such a political ploy. A to catch a fight, give me a break. You have over stepped your time. Retire and go away.

  3. It is past time for regime change.

    There are one too many breaches of fiduciary duties owed by the Sheriff’s Office to the taxpayers.

    The Sherif must, “Fall on her sword.”

    David S. Wall

  4. Jennifer says, “The day after she installed the cameras, an inmate brawl erupted and was captured on video. Commission chair LaDoris Cordell, a retired Superior Court judge and San Jose’s former police auditor, suggested the timing seemed a little convenient.”

    According to Judge Cordell herself, Jennifer’s statement is not only misleading, but untrue. Please go to, and read the email exchanges between Judge Cordell and Smith, and decide for yourself.

    Having said that, I am very weary of the constant unprofessional, disrespectful, and rude way the Sheriff is treating Judge Cordell, the Blue Ribbon Commission, and her employees. Her last minute heroics, grandstanding, face saving attempts to keep the jails under her control, just so that she can win her 2018, re-election bid for Sheriff, are not fooling anyone who is paying attention to what is really going on.

    I honestly do not care what magical reforms, or empty promises she makes anymore because she has lost the faith and the trust of both the community and her employees. And once a leader has lost that, they have lost everything.

    Further, her employees are terrified of her and when you have a hostile workplace like they describe, the effects are going to spill over onto the public AND the inmates. So no matter WHAT she comes up with, implements, or tries to push forward, it will fail due to lack of support, and serious proper oversight by an outside authority.

  5. I don’t expect the sheriff can provide proof she was implementing these improvements prior to the death of Michael Tyree. I know she can’t. The last year has been spent fighting for training and against the reduction in investigative power she created. The only reason the pre-shift briefings were re-established, the only improvement I can think of, is because the CPOA demanded it be included in their contract negotiations. Therefore the unions have done more to improve the jails than the sheriff in the past year.

    I was told she spent last week end in the jails violating some of her own recently established policies. That’s what happens when policy is just a disposable piece of paper to the leader. Don’t think deputies didn’t see it and take a subconscious lesson away from it, sheriff.

    The last year has been spent on issues caused by her pulling out all enforcement sergeants without notice. She then replaced them with four fewer corrections sergeants. Corrections sergeants weren’t trained nor required to investigate anything at all that happened on their shift. She dumped investigations for ALL facilities on one enforcement sergeant per shift.

    Perhaps she thought that was an improvement? Completely removing the capacity of a direct line supervisor to begin an investigation immediately after events occurred? No. It wasn’t. It endangered people and caused divisions between staff and between unions. The only improvement the sheriff was looking for. She has been trying to divide the unions so they don’t team up and campaign against her in 2018. She said so herself to LaDoris Cordell.

  6. Sounds like “too little, too late.”
    Where are the cries for her to resign? Is she coated in Teflon? Why was she asleep at the switch for so long? She never visited the lockup in the middle of the night? Silicon Valley was built on “management by wandering around.” What is her management style? Completely hands-off?
    Finally, does she want to BE sheriff, or just enjoy the title, salary, and perks?

    • The deputies have been seeking her ouster for 4 years now. Endorsing other candidates, votes of no confidence, and now calls for her to step down. Apparently even a complete incompetent sheriff is worth more to the citizens than all the good deputies starting to run for the door. Coated in teflon? That or a thick film of political grease applied by Cindy Chavez and Dave Cortese with the help of others in the county.

      She wasn’t asleep at the wheel, many of the “fixes” were created by her cuts that were approved, sometimes against auditors recommendations, by the Board of Supervisors. Deputies stated over and over where this was going so no one has the room to be shocked… particularly the author of this bit of “journalism.”

      Visited lock up in the middle of the night? Sure, when she was a sergeant there, something like 40 years ago.

      What is her management style? Ask any of the deputies they will state with equivocation, “fear and intimidation.” One of her assistant sheriffs is called Neuselini for his micromanagement and surveillance tactics and a Captain called Kim Jong Il for throwing a deputy arrested for DUI in general population because protecting him from criminals who would potentially harm an LEO would have been “special treatment”, if that gives you an idea of what kind of managers she promotes.

      As for her, she’s been out for most of the past 3 years and when things get to hot she goes underground until her attorneys and new tax payer funded PR firm come up with the latest strategy to cover her.

      She doesn’t want to be sheriff – she wants the power she holds over 1200 deputies, a slew of politicians and who knows how many rich people in her secret “fund raising” arm, Sheriff’s Advisory Board. She could care less about deputies, functioning law enforcement and the lives of people that may be affected, even taken due to her inability to care at all unless she’s forced to care.

      Yeah, the $290K salary doesn’t hurt either I’m sure. I’m still trying to figure out how she got from $170K to $290K since 2002 if her claims that she’s “had fewer raises than her deputies” is even slightly true.

  7. The Sheriff is doing a commendable job in a dynamic, volatile environment which must accommodate the mentally ill along with violent inmates. The recent flow of felons from prisons is affecting the jail.
    Also, bail schedules should be revisited so that more people, the accused, would be released to their homes under supervision. That alone would reduce some overcrowding.
    People should be allowed to perform community service to greater extent than is available now. Perhaps, electronic monitoring would help alleviate the crowding as well.

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