Audit Shows Unsafe Working Conditions at Santa Ana Jail

Santa Ana Police Department headquarters, which includes the city's jail. (Photo by: Adam Elmahrek)

Santa Ana Police Department headquarters, which includes the city's jail. (Photo by: Adam Elmahrek)

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Maintenance workers at the Santa Ana Jail have had to work among inmates not properly supervised by guards, were not given radios for communication in case of an emergency, and have had to move exercise equipment contaminated with inmate blood, according to an audit of the jail’s safety protocols.

Overall, the audit, completed in April by environmental health and safety consultant Dr. Maureen Sassoon, described the jail as a workplace with safety concerns at a variety of levels.

The city’s jail administrator acknowledged the audit and said the issues have been addressed.

The jail, which was built in the 1990s amid spiraling crime rates, is among the most controversial line items in the city’s budget. In the decades since its construction crime has sharply declined and local criminals are not currently housed at the facility.

But the jail continues to operate and does so at a multi-million dollar annual deficit. To defray costs, the city contracts with the federal government to house detainees from both Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Marshalls Service.

Among the audit’s specific findings:

  • Maintenance workers don’t have radios, and “not having a means of communication in this environment is not a desirable situation.” Workers should also be using a “buddy system” in the jail, or at least have a radio to communicate in case of emergency.
  • The water heater room appeared to have been flooded “recently and numerous times,” leading to additional city costs that arise from replacing damaged equipment before the usual replacement deadline. Also, a fire department permit for the room had expired in 2011.
  • More than 2,000 gallons from a 10,000-gallon diesel tanks appeared to be missing, according to fuel gauge readings and statements by workers. If this is all correct, “then the obvious options are that the tank has a leak or that the delivery company is not delivering what the City is paying for or that someone is stealing fuel.”
  • The oxygen sensor in the chiller room wasn’t functioning, and there was only one breathing apparatus available, which is one short of the Cal-OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard.
  • Inmates cut themselves and bled on workout equipment, and maintenance employees had to move the equipment even though it wasn’t decontaminated according to Cal-OSHA blood-borne pathogen standards. “In addition, the men state that they are not equipped to do the decontamination and that they have not had the appropriate training.”
  • An inmate “was allowed to walk around while the maintenance men were working and only one guard was on duty.”

Jail Administrator Ann Matulin said she has implemented changes to jail operations in order to address the report’s findings. She says employees now have radios, and she issued a directive for police officers to lock down inmates every time maintenance workers come through.

“The officer would use his discretion and say, this is a safe environment you’re fine,” Matulin said. “I sent out the directive, that no matter what, when maintenance was in there, that the modules would have to be locked down.”

Matulin said inmates are tasked with cleaning up workout equipment after they are finished using it. While that’s not changing, maintenance employees were advised to inform jail staff, which would then “have it cleaned up with the bleach and the cleaning protocol we have.”

As far as the other maintenance safety issues highlighted in the report, Matulin said she referred those matters to Building Superintendant John Aguilar. Aguilar couldn’t be reached for comment.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek

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