Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens Responds to Homeland Security Report
Yesterday, a report was released concerning the Theo Lacy Jail. Several things in the report were not accurate and did a disservice to the hard working individuals who operate our custody facilities. Unfortunately, some media outlets choose to cover the report in a sensational manner that painted a misleading “Shawshank-like” picture of Orange County jail facilities.
The report was based on an inspection done by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General in November 2016. Some legitimate issues were identified in the report and were quickly addressed. Many of the other issues raised were inaccurate and can be refuted. In an effort to provide the public with transparency and a more accurate account of our operations, I have itemized the concerns raised in the report and provided our response (see below).
It is important to note that all Orange County facilities are inspected on a regular basis by multiple government agencies and independent oversight authorities. Our facilities that are used to house ICE detainees receive two- to-four formal inspections each year, with dedicated ICE personnel who also perform other inspections on a near-daily basis. With such oversight and scrutiny, the public must know that their jail facilities are operated in accordance with all state and federal standards. I remain proud of the work the men and women of the Sheriff’s Department do to operate our custody facilities in a way that provides for the safety of both the public and inmates.
– Sheriff Sandra Hutchens
- Issue No. 1: “Food handling at TLF poses health risks. Detainees were being served, and reported being regularly served, meat that appeared to be spoiled. Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) staff members are not handling meat safely, including meat being sent to other ICE detention facilities.”
We disagree with the comments regarding our food handling and quality of product.
Within an hour of inspection, OCSD staff responded to the walk-in refrigerator at the Theo Lacy Facility and determined the meat was being stored at the correct temperature and was acceptable in terms of color, texture and smell. A supervisor took the OIG’s allegation a step further by trying the meat himself and reporting it was not spoiled.
There were several uncovered containers of individually wrapped lunch meat and some containers without the proper labels that the OIG pointed out in the inspection. Staff immediately put lids on the containers and properly labeled them.
All food products, including frozen meat that was put in the walk-in fridge so it could safely thaw for an upcoming meal, strictly adhere to USDA guidelines and the food service industry’s National Restaurant Association “ServSafe” standards.
The Theo Lacy kitchen is inspected thoroughly and often by several agencies including Homeland Security, ICE and the Orange County Health Care Agency.
- Issue No. 2: “Unsatisfactory conditions and service at the facility, including moldy and mildewed shower stalls, refuse in cells and inoperable phones.”
Immigration detainees are responsible for the cleanliness of their own cells and are issued cleaning supplies to do so. This requirement is included in a handbook that every detainee must sign. It is also posted in each dayroom and is summarized daily in an orientation video.
Detainees who fail to clean their cells are subject to disciplinary sanctions, starting with a verbal warning and counseling on how to avoid disciplinary sanctions.
Showers are also cleaned by work crews and in January we implemented a more intensive cleaning schedule to address the OIG’s concerns.
Phones at the Theo Lacy facility have a full-time technician who responds to requests for service. Most repairs are completed same-day.
- Issue No. 3: “Some ‘high-risk’ detainees are in less restrictive barracks-style housing and some ‘low-risk’ detainees are in more restrictive housing modules; the basis for housing decisions is not adequately documented.”
- Issue No. 4: “Contrary to ICE detention standards, inspectors observed high-risk detainees and low-risk detainees together in parts of the TLF.”
Where a detainee is housed is based on an assessment performed by OCSD Classification staff, which takes into account several factors including criminal history, past in-custody history and current in-custody behavior and incidents.
This classification system is for the safety of all detainees, our staff and our facility. Detainees are placed with other detainees within one risk level of their own, as required by ICE.
Detainees have access to a shared law library, the deputy station to ask questions and a mailbox to send letters or submit grievances. These common areas are monitored by a deputy to ensure detainees are not gaining access to areas they are not allowed in.
- Issue No. 5: “Moves from less restrictive barracks to more restrictive housing modules are not explained to detainees, nor are detainees given the opportunity to appeal changes, as required by ICE detention standards.”
A housing change is not a disciplinary measure. There is no ICE requirement for a detainee to appeal housing decisions or a right to appeal housing decisions, however a detainee can submit a grievance regarding any condition of confinement, including housing location.
- Issue No. 6: “OCSD’s more restrictive disciplinary segregation violates ICE detention standards.”
Disciplinary segregation is rare and reserved for egregious and/or recurrent wrong-doing. If a detainee is placed in disciplinary segregation, it is simply because less restrictive measures of discipline were unsuccessful to attain compliance with jail rules. This is done for the safety of the facility, staff and detainees.
In 2016, 30 detainees were subject to disciplinary segregation. Bed days spent in disciplinary segregation represented .27 percent of the facility’s total bed days.
While in disciplinary segregation, detainees are still given access to the law library, religious practices, emergency and legal telephone calls and official visits. They also have access to recreation and non-official visits, which is in compliance with ICE regulations.
The average stay in disciplinary segregation is 12 days.
- Issue No. 7: “Neither ICE nor OCSD properly documents grievances from detainees to ensure resolution, notification of resolution and opportunities to appeal.”
This simply is false. The grievance system is detailed in the Local Supplement to the National Detainee Handbook. Depending on which level the grievance was handled on, there are up to three levels of appeal available. Most grievances are submitted to sergeants, so most detainees would have two levels of appeal available.