A jail sentence is not supposed to be viewed as a vacation, but neither is it a way to submit prisoners to cruelty and inhumane conditions. Women inmates in the West County Detention Facility in Richmond, California have complained that the conditions are so horrible, undocumented immigrants are requesting to be deported.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) was so appalled at the complaints she’d heard where inmates were not allowed out of their cells for 23 hours at a time and other horrendous conditions, that she sent a letter to Thomas Homan, deputy director and senior official, requesting his aid:
Detainees claim they have been locked in their cells for prolonged periods of time, in some cases up to 23 hours at a time. Further, the allegations suggest that detainees do not have toilets in their cells, leading to instances in which female detainees have had to relieve themselves in biodegradable bags and even their personal clothes.
Others have complained about inadequate medical care at the facility. It has been reported that the conditions are so deplorable that detainees are requesting deportation over pursuing claims in immigration court.
Wishing for Deportation
Otis R. Taylor Jr, an East Bay Columnist, had the opportunity to take a tour of the Contra Costa County facility and met with Dianny Patricia Menendez, 38. According to Taylor, the prisoner said she wanted to be deported instead of staying in the states:
“I just don’t want to be here detained anymore,” Menendez said. “I don’t feel good physically. It’s everything. The terrible food, being enclosed.”
Menendez was serving a 15-month sentence after being caught entering the country illegally in 2016. She had been trying to see her children (American born); an 18-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son, but since she was a repeat offender, she was arrested and sent to the ICE-run detention facility. During the 20 years she lived in the U.S. illegally, she has been deported twice. Her convicted offenses include drug charges and a D.U.I.
Menendez got her wish and was deported in December 2017.
Medical and Personal Hygiene Denied
Taylor interviewed other detainees and heard much of the same “deplorable” stories. The cells do not have toilets in them, so inmates have to share a communal bathroom, which many say they rarely even have access. Women are urinating and defecating into red biodegradable bags while hovering over trash cans or even forced to soil their own clothes.
Karina Paez from Tijuana told Taylor her roommate had to defecate in her own clothing just after arriving at the facility.
“Later on, somebody told us that we were supposed to scream ‘red bag’ out the window,” Paez said to the columnist, referring to the biodegradable bags. “I didn’t know that. I just arrived here, and she was new, too.”
The facility’s officials deny the allegations, saying the cells are rarely locked and the women are seldom in their “rooms” except for when they are sleeping. Sometimes the cells are locked during shift change and when performing a head count of the inmates.
Another complaint from the women is lack of necessary medical care. One woman said she fell off of the top bunk in her cell onto her arm but only received a topical cream, aspirin, and a sling when she requested x-rays.
Another female inmate lifted her shirt for Taylor to reveal a “fist-sized lump near her waistline. It’s growing and she doesn’t know what it is. She said the jail medical staff hasn’t given her attention.”
Sheriff’s Captain Chris Simmons argued the inmates often get upset when they request something medical personnel do not feel is appropriate. He told Taylor:
“The nurse in medical may not give them what they want during the course of that conversation,” Simmons said. “That’s when we see some of the complaints about medical.”
But these are just allegations while a full investigation takes place under the California AG; the Contra Costa Sheriff’s office has conducted their own investigation suggesting the claims are false. You can read their full statement on their Facebook page.
Prison conditions for inmates are not known to be the best of accommodations. Let’s face it; they are there for punishment, not recreation. But, when it comes to health and humanity, forced solitary confinement, inadequate medical treatment for necessary conditions, and restriction from bathroom privileges should never be tolerated.
If any of these allegations do turn out to be correct, it brings up questions not just of competence, but of whether the whole Californian system is broken. Catching and releasing repeat offenders, only to process them through the same system, again and again, is more than just ineptitude…It’s practically criminal.