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East County News Service

February 4, 2023 (San Diego) -- San Diego County jails have in recent years had the highest number of jail deaths of any major county in California. Many of those deaths have been due to drug overdoses, including Fentanyl. That’s prompted an investigation by the state auditor and calls for reforms from politicians.

Now, newly elected Sheriff Kelly Martinez (photo) has announced numerous changes aimed at improvement the health and safety of people in custody.  Those changes include:

  • Use of narcotic detection dogs in county jails has been increased, including the ability for every dog to detect Fentanyl.
  • Naloxone, a nasal spray to reverse narcotic overdose affects, has been placed in all detention facilities countywide, accessible to both staff members and inmates. This has been administered at least eight times to save lives.
  • Jails have increased use of body scanners, TruNarc testing for narcotics, and centralized processing of mail to screen for drugs and other contraband.
  • New intake protocols request voluntary urine samples from people arrested. For those with signs of substance abuse, medication can be prescribed to help manage withdrawal symptoms safely and get counseling. A scoring system to evaluate alcohol and opiate withdrawal has been implemented.
  • New inmates are also screened for mental health and suicide risk is evaluated.
  • A five-year contract with Naphcare has been initiated to provide medical and mental healthcare in local detention facilities, with added staffing. The Sheriff’s department is seeking accreditation with the National Commission on Correctional Health this fall. The Naphcare partnership will enable jail medical staff to provide medications more quickly by accessing StateCare, a telemedicine provider, when a provider is not on-site.
  • Body-worn cameras are now in use at the Las Colinas detention facility in Santee and will be rolled out to other jail facilities as renovations and infrastructure improvements for technology are made.
  • In addition to wellness checks, weekly visits with service providers have been initiated for higher risk and more vulnerable individuals in jail  The visits include a team of medical, mental health and reentry services staff to collaborate on care needed.
  • A Certified Nurse Assistant has been added to jail staffing, along with incentives to fill vacant jail staff positions and retain current workers.  A new job classification of mental health case management clinician will also soon be added.
  • In early 2023, the Sheriff's Department will partner with the Department of State Hospitals (DSH) to implement the Early Access Stabilization Services (EASS) Program. The State of California has created an EASS program where mental health providers will support county jails to treat individuals who have been deemed incompetent to stand trial and are awaiting placement in an inpatient psychiatric bed in a DSH facility or a Jail-Based Competency Treatment Program.

The Sheriff’s department also reached an agreement with the Citizen’s Law Enforcement Review Board allowed CLERB trained staff to respond to in-custody death scenes and review natural deaths in jails. The Sheriff Department’s Critical Incident Review Board also reviews in-custody deaths.

“Sheriff Martinez is committed to improving San Diego County jails,” a press release from the Sheriff’s department on jail improvements states. “She is committed to transparency and accountability and communication with the public. This update and media information is in furtherance of those goals. 



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