National Lawyers Guild San Francisco releases letter calling for inmate protections at Santa Rita Jail amid COVID-19

Alameda County Santa Rita Jail
Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff
According to the letter, which was written anonymously by a group of attorneys and legal workers, more than 200 inmates at Santa Rita Jail have tested positive for the coronavirus since April.

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Several months after COVID-19 reached Santa Rita Jail, National Lawyers Guild San Francisco released a letter Oct. 2 that called for Alameda County officials to protect inmates against the disease and ensure safer living conditions.

More than 200 inmates at Santa Rita Jail have tested positive for the coronavirus since April, according to the letter, which was written anonymously by a group of attorneys and legal workers. The letter noted that two inmates who tested positive were released, exposing the disease to their families and the community at large. No Santa Rita Jail inmates have died as a result of COVID-19.

The letter also urged Alameda County officials to declare a formal state of emergency and to continue releasing inmates, the majority of whom are in the pretrial stage. It also demanded improved medical care and increased opportunities for testing at the jail.

“We are a group of public defenders, civil rights attorneys, and legal workers who have each taken hundreds, if not thousands of calls from clients in Santa Rita Jail,” the letter states. “Clients have consistently described conditions that are unsafe, unclean.”

Many inmates who have contracted the coronavirus have endured “painful and debilitating” symptoms, according to the letter, which also alleged that those who tested positive remained locked in solitary confinement, with their vitals being taken twice a day.

Additionally, the letter alleged that inmates suffering from COVID-19 received limited information about their condition and treatment, leaving many anxious and fearful. Meanwhile, many of those who have recovered continue to experience symptoms, including headaches, body pain and difficulty breathing, according to the letter.

“Under the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution, pretrial detainees can be detained, but they cannot be subjected to punishment,” the letter states. It also alleges “the negligent medical care and the unsanitary conditions experienced by clients who have caught COVID-19 amounts to punishment in and of itself.”

In August, however, Sabot Consulting released a report to Alameda County that details observations made during an unannounced visit to Santa Rita Jail by Sabot Consulting director Mike Brady and several Alameda County officials. According to the report, the jail has responded or is responding to the majority of recommendations made in June to improve inmate conditions.

During the visit, Brady found that everyone was screened for COVID-19 symptoms upon entering the facility and that there was “100% mask compliance” among staff members. The report states that the vast majority of inmates wore a mask whenever leaving their respective cell or dormitory, as mandated.

“It is much easier to enforce the mask order to inmates when they wish to come out of their cells/dormitories for recreation time,” the report states. “The potential loss of that privilege is a meaningful consequence for inmates.”

Additionally, all inmates are tested upon their arrival to Santa Rita Jail and again 10 days later, which, according to the report, will likely help limit the spread of the coronavirus within the facility.

Santa Rita Jail has also continued to implement its color-coded system, according to the report. Inmates are assigned a color denoting how at-risk they are of contracting the coronavirus and where they reside within the jail to prevent further spread, according to a previous article from The Daily Californian.

“The report by the mutually agreed upon federal monitor is an accurate depiction of the Covid 19 response and medical provider at the jail,” said Alameda County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Sgt. Ray Kelly in an email. “We continue to do an excellent job managing unprecedented challenges.”

Contact Mallika Seshadri at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SeshadriMallika.