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'Jail Standards Are Voluntary' - ProPublica And Sacramento Bee Report On Kern County Jails

Jason Pohl
Sacramento Bee
Safety cells in Kern County jails are closet-sized rooms meant for brief detainment. They've been used increasingly as suicide watch overflow rooms, though the rate of suicide in county jails has not decreased.

Since 2014, Kern County sheriffs have been putting more inmates into isolating suicide watch cells. The effort is to reduce suicide risk, but it hasn’t helped.

Instead, deaths by suicide have risen, although these deaths did not happen to inmates who were in suicide watch jails. Those who have died by suicide were not identified as having a suicide risk.

Propublica’s Ryan Gabrielson and Jason Pohl from the Sacramento Bee are investigating California’s jails this year to see what has changed since the state implemented re-alignment for a series called Overcorrection. Their latest story looks atsuicide watch cells in Kern County jails, and the increased use of "suicide watch overflow" rooms.

This isn’t the first time their reporting has brought the pair to the San Joaquin Valley. Other stories have focused on murder in the Fresno County jail, and an increase in deathsoverall.

Listen to the interview above to hear from Pohl and Gabrielson about how they reported their latest story, and how they found that the state has little authority to enforce rules about how jails operate.

Laura Tsutsui was a reporter and producer for Valley Public Radio. She joined the station in 2017 as a news intern, and later worked as a production assistant and weekend host. Laura covered local issues ranging from politics to housing, and produced the weekly news program Valley Edition. She left the station in November 2020.
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