Safety guidelines requested from those inside Santa Clara County Jails During COVID

Editor's Note:

This letter to the County Board of Supervisors chronicles the last two months of those detained in Santa Clara County jails during and after COVID outbreaks in the facilities - leading to a 9 day detainee hunger strike to demand basic human rights.

To the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors:

The following written comment chronicles the issues, concerns, and documented incidents of health related complaints that have occurred in the past two months in the Santa Clara County Jails. The write up is a chronological account of the experiences of those detained during and after COVID outbreaks in the facilities. This letter culminates in a short, specific, and monitorable set of solutions. Please confirm receipt of this email as written comment for the Board of Supervisors January 26th, 2021 meeting.

There was a Covid-19 outbreak on December 10, 2020, in the Main Jail 7B Housing Unit. The following day, although a Biohazard Team is is supposed to clean facilities contaminated with the virus or bodily fluids and COVID-19 Exposure Team (CET) Staff are supposed to supply adequate cleaning materials, the Jail consistently has ignored this and depends entirely on Inmate/Porter labor to clean infected pods. On 12/12/20, seven infected with the virus were moved to the infirmary without deep cleaning.

The Summary of COVID-19 Prevention and Control Plan for County of Santa Clara Jails and Juvenile Facilities, Page 1 of 3, Procedures for Staff, states: 

"Staff must strictly comply with the State Public Health Officer’s and County Health Officer’s rules both at and outside of work, including not coming to work when they are sick, wearing a face covering and practicing social distancing both at work and off-duty, and avoiding risky activities outside of work like attending gatherings."

The only possible way the virus can spread is through staff and after the Jail Staff party controversy, this only supports distrust in the way staff are committed to the care of the incarcerated.

Prisoners in 7B were put on lockdown for 28 days leaving them with only 30 minutes out of cell everyday and canceled visits. Because a majority of prisoners have tested positive of Covid-19 or received symptoms of Covid-19, some began to refuse testing after 1st hand experiences of being moved to the infirmary and then the severely mental health cells on the 6th floor which were infested with feces on the floor and walls including other bodily fluids.


"Inmates are not required to clean up bodily fluids. If someone is sick, notify an officer to request a Biohazard Team to clean up the area. Bodily fluids can carry disease, including HIV/AIDS."

Yet prisoners were forced to quarantine in these cells and clean them while symptomatic with the virus. On previous accounts, the entire infirmary was restricted from showering for nearly a week and handed a mop bucket to take a bird bath. In the Women's Facility, after one woman tested positive with the virus, she was moved to a cell full of bloody band-aids. A concerned mother whose son was in Elmwood donated over 8000 facial coverings due to lack of supply the Jail provided for the incarcerated.

Due to these atrocities, prisoners in 7B went on a hunger strike beginning January 13th 2021. Most of these in 7B prisoners are pre-trial and have been incarcerated in the Santa Clara County Jail prior to the pandemic.

The Hunger Strikes main areas of concern in need for resolution were:

-Having staff follow public health guidelines

-Having visits reinstated

-Clear communication on protocols

-Having grievances and appeals responded to with more substance than “issue resolved”.

After 9 days, the hunger strike in Main Jail Housing Unit 7B began with about 30 participants and ended with over 50 participants. Some prisoners even began to stop drinking water and some prisoners lost anywhere from 10 to 18 pounds.

On Friday January 22, 2021, the Main Jail Captain spoke with the Inmate Advisory Council Main Jail Housing Unit 7B representative. Some but not all concessions were made which included an official Santa Clara County Sheriff Memorandum.

The Main Jail Captain agreed to enforce public health guidelines including no longer having officers rotate from the Covid Positive Units to Units where prisoners are in good health, wearing facial coverings, increasing out of cell time from 30 minutes to 1 hour (3 hours prior to Shelter in Place Orders) and improve better lines of communication.

Unfortunately visits are still canceled but what was made clear was that this was the Captain's decision, although the Captain did voice getting visits back as soon as possible. Visits in the Main Jail are done behind a glass and communication can only be heard through a phone leaving no possibility for the virus to spread through visits. There were also some concerns raised about delayed mail due to having the mail be in quarantine before being handed to prisoners. 

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Updated Jan. 19, 2021, Frequently Asked Questions, Prevention, Am I at risk for Covid-19 from mail, packages and products?, CDC states:

"There is still a lot that is unknown about COVID-19 and how it spreads. Coronaviruses are thought to be spread most often by respiratory droplets. Although the virus can survive for a short period on some surfaces, it is unlikely to be spread from domestic or international mail, products or packaging. However, it may be possible that people can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads."

Furthermore, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Running Errands Grocery Shopping, Take-Out, Banking, and Getting Gas, Updated Dec. 31, 2020 states:

"Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after accepting deliveries or collecting mail. After receiving your delivery or bringing home your takeout food, wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. After collecting mail from a post office or home mailbox, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol."

There should no reason guidelines can still be followed without unreasonable delays.

Content with at least some concessions, prisoners in the Main Jail 7B began eating dinner on January 22, 2021 during their regularly scheduled dinner time at 4PM, and urged their family members and larger community to support reinstating visits during public comment during the following Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meeting.

The following day on January 23, at 6:00 PM, Officer Hernandez wore his mask improperly under his chin during a head count in the Main Jail Housing Unit 7B.

From 7:10 PM to 7:50 PM Correctional Officers decided to conduct cell searches throughout the cell searches. Officer Dixon used the same gloves throughout every search cross contaminating cells. During the search, prisoners were forced to use other people's cells in order to use the restroom which ended with someone being put on lockdown after following instructions.

In the SANTA CLARA COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE CUSTODY BUREAU INMATE RULEBOOK, Revised July 2018, on Page 17, Cell Rules, it states:

"Do not go into another person’s cell or bunk area."

During this time, seven men were taken to the infirmary and were put in dorm living instead of individual cells which were available. There were nine to ten men in red and orange tops that were housed together during this time which is against classification policy.

These actions have frustrated the incarcerated and their families in correctional staff's behavior, and consequently leaving is a possibility of another hunger strike again with more prisoners from all floors that are willing to strike in solidarity because this affects everyone.

Due to the current situation, on behalf of the incarcerated and their families, Silicon Valley De-Bug recommends the following:

  • Adhere to the voice of hunger strikers and their families, including reinstating Inmate Advisory Council meetings and  being able to communicate lower level issues with the Sargeant and work together with the incarcerated to resolve issues without us having to take measures such as hunger strike.
  • Santa Clara County Public Health enforce guidelines on the Santa Clara County Jail Administration and staff or collaborate with the Sheriff's Department, and District Attorney to release people in order for correctional and medical staff to have the capacity to house and treat the incarcerated. No human being infected with the virus should be forced to live in cells covered in feces or bodily fluids.
  • Enforce stricter policies on correctional staff that do not follow guidelines with immediate termination.
  • Stop depending on the labor of Inmate/Porters and enforce the Biohazard and CET staff to ensure the cleanliness of all areas of jail life. When an outbreak does occur, avoid any unnecessary moves in any part of the jail. Once an outbreak is recorded, have the Biohazard and CET staff be responsible for the cleanliness of nfected pods and common areas.
  • Reinstate visits previously done behind glass pre-Covid, and immediately provide video chat visits for all prisoners and their families free of charge.
  • Provide new and clean face coverings free of charge daily and provide other face covering options in the commissary.
  • Have an updated reoccurring COVID in the Jails report and audit from OCLEM, the Sheriff, Custody Health and any other relevant parties and meeting time to share information to the public and to receive information as well.
  • The Grievance system needs to immediately be done by a 3rd independent party.

Please see attached document titled Requested Safety Guidelines From The Inside written by prisoners in the Main Jail 7B.

Requested Safety Guidelines From The Inside

For all officers to wear masks and gloves and also provide us with gloves when there is

an outbreak in the unit to prevent spreading of germs in common areas. When an

outbreak occurs avoid any unnecessary moves in any part of the jail. Once an outbreak

is recorded, have professionals come into clean infected pods and common areas.

When there are necessary transfers to and from Elmwood they should be quarantined

before put into the general population. Visiting: Be proactive to find a way to reinstate

visiting whether it be on tablets, fixing the ventilation system or implementing extra

safety precautions. Also to Keep us and the public updated throughout the process.

Communication with the admin’s: The last IAC meeting was in September we should

have at least one once a month or every other month and have meaningful meetings.

The same issues are brought up without a resolution. Being able to communicate  

lower level issues with the Sargent and work together to resolve these issues without 

us having to take measures such as hunger strikes.

Our grievance process: Having an outside party respond to our grievances not

sergeants and lieutenants. The grievance unit will all work together or allow us to 

appeal their decisions to an outside party that will not be biased.

Thank you,

prisoners in the Main Jail 7B.