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Inside the walls of the Sonoma County Jail, an influx of inmates is straining a worn-out workforce.

Realignment of the state prison system in 2011 has sent thousands of prisoners to local jails to ease prison crowding. It has brought more inmates to the Sonoma County Jail serving longer sentences for more serious offenses — but the number of correctional deputies has not risen.

Sheriff Steve Freitas said his department has the staff to oversee a population of about 850 inmates, far fewer than the nearly 1,200 inmates actually housed at the jail.

To address the staffing shortage, Freitas said correctional deputies have averaged between 60 to 80 hours of overtime each month. “And they’ve been doing that for five years,” he said.

“When you are on the end of a 16-hour day, are you performing as well as you did in the first hour? Or if you haven’t had a day off in eight days, that has to have some type of impact,” Freitas said.

The actions of jail staff have come under scrutiny inside and outside the Sheriff’s Office in the wake of two recent civil rights lawsuits that allege correctional deputies used excessive force to subdue inmates. The county paid $1.25 million in January to settle one of the suits, filed by a Forestville man who was shocked 23 times with a Taser while being booked into the jail on New Years Eve 2012 on drunken-driving charges.

Freitas said lawsuits involving jails are common with a group of people “that don’t want to be there,” and the allegations contained in the lawsuits vary in veracity. He said the lawsuits are not an indication of any systemic problems at the jail.

When asked whether the amount of overtime played into the actions of staff during incidents highlighted in the lawsuits, Freitas said he “doesn’t know that they play specifically into recent incidents,” but added that exhaustion is a potential impact on staff performance that is taken seriously by the Sheriff’s Office.

Long before the Taser lawsuit was filed against his department, jail supervisors reviewed the 2012 New Years Eve incident. They quickly determined that changes were necessary ­— to both jail policies and equipment — to restrain unruly inmates more effectively, Freitas said. Still, no one was disciplined and the county admitted no liability in the Taser settlement, reached in January.

“We’re confident we think we put in place policies to where that won’t happen again,” Freitas said. “We evaluated ourselves and went, ‘That’s not what we’re looking for.’ ”

Assistant Sheriff Randall Walker, who runs the jail, said new strategies have been instituted for controlling unruly inmates, including two new restraint devices to prevent inmate and staff injuries, and they’ve adopted more training in defusing potentially volatile situations.

Walker said no one was disciplined after the 2012 incident because deputies didn’t have “the tools they needed in that situation, on that night.

“I can’t blame them for not having the tools. That’s my fault,” Walker said.

In the second civil rights lawsuit, six men allege correctional deputies systematically beat them on a single day last year. The Sheriff’s Office has strongly disputed the claims, which its spokeswoman terms “outrageous and inflammatory accusations.”

VIDEO

See footage of activist George Ortiz, others discussing Latino

history

.

EXHIBITS

All running through Jan. 11

Sonoma County Museum,

425 Seventh St., Santa Rosa:

* Main gallery: ``La Frontera Del Norte,'' tracing the experience and

history of Sonoma County's Latino community with audio/video

displays, photos, artwork and artifacts.

* Contemporary project space: ``Julio Cesar Morales: Informal Economy

Vendors,'' photographic and vinyl installation of artwork by Morales,

a San Francisco artist and workshop leader, dealing with Latino

street vendors in Tijuana, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

* New downstairs gallery: ``Tengo La Voz,'' an installation of

artwork produced by Santa Rosa youth in collaboration with Morales.

Part of this exhibit also will be housed in an additional temporary

gallery at Seventh Street and Mendocino Avenue, a couple of blocks

from the museum.

Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Admission: $5; $2 for

students, seniors and disabled; free for children 12 and under.

.

EVENTS

Sept. 27, 1-4 p.m. -- ``Tengo La Voz'' photography workshop.

Oct. 11, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. -- Free Family Day Fiesta.

Oct. 23, 6-8:30 p.m. -- Screening of the film ``Seguin,'' with a

lecture by Dr. Francisco Vazquez.

Oct. 24, 3-5 p.m. -- Day of the Dead workshop with Liz Camino Byers.

Nov. 1, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. -- Dia de los Muertos Free Family Day Fiesta.

Nov. 7, 3-5 p.m. -- ``Tengo La Voz'' workshop with Julio Cesar

Morales

Nov. 18, 6:30 p.m. -- ``Latino Voice'' lecture by David Hayes

Bautista.

Information: 579-1500, sonomacountymuseum.org, tengolavoz.org.

Even without the lawsuits, Freitas and his senior advisers have been taking a hard look at how the jail operates in the wake of realignment, which has sent more serious offenders in greater numbers to jail. The county jail, built to hold people for less than a year, is now housing people for many years.

Realignment “changed the landscape of public safety,” Freitas said. “I can’t overstate how big of a deal that was.”

Bob Ochs, Sonoma County’s probation chief from 2005 until he retired in April, said he and Freitas worked closely as members of a team of local law enforcement leaders to create a plan to keep low-risk people out of jail and create services to help them stay out.

“Most counties didn’t do that,” Ochs said, noting that some opted to build bigger jails.

Walker credited Freitas’ eye toward efficiency with coming up with ways to keep low-risk people out of jail. Freitas supported adding electronic monitoring options and other release programs to make room for more serious criminals, he said.

“People who can be productive in the community should be out there, not in the jail,” Walker said. “That’s cheaper for the taxpayer dollar. I give him credit — as his employee but also as a taxpayer.”

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