SACRAMENTO – When the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office recently stopped allowing visitors at its Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center (RCCC) in Elk Grove due to COVID-19, it made Sacramento NAACP President Betty Williams all the more determined to find out just what is going on behind locked doors.
“The Sheriff’s Office values visitation as an essential part of our jail operations, but at this time, the health and wellness of all those who work, live, and visit our campus must be protected,” Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Rod Grassmann wrote in a statement dated December 30.
“We will continue to ensure the safety and security of the people who work and live in our facility while providing continued access to medical and mental health services for the inmate population,” the statement continued.
Sgt. Grassmann declined a request by the Sacramento OBSERVER to answer questions about the state of COVID-19 at RCCC and the County jail located in downtown Sacramento.
Ms. Williams says the local NAACP has received a great many calls from families concerned about conditions in the jails. They fear their loved ones, who cannot practice social distancing, are being exposed to the virus and question conditions and treatment of those who do test positive.
Ms. Williams and other members of The Sacramento African American COVID-19 Outreach Coalition found out earlier this month that the number of cases inside the jails had skyrocketed. The information was imparted during a regular phone call area leaders have been participating in with County officials to get answers related to equity in local pandemic response.
“You could have heard a pin drop,” Ms. Williams said of the news.
“First they’re giving like 12 cases and 21 cases, then today its 300?’ she said. “How did it jump from 21 to 300? That didn’t happen yesterday.”
County officials on those calls haven’t been forthwrite with information about inmates from the beginning of the virus crisis, Ms. Williams said.
“They either skirt around it, they don’t have the people on there to speak to it or they give numbers that are inaccurate,” she shared.
The Greater Sacramento NAACP recently had to purchase an N95 mask for a man whose family was told that he wouldn’t be released without one. The organization also stepped in, Ms. Williams said, when another inmate’s family learned he’d been wearing the same face mask for more than two weeks.
“We had to do what we had to do to get the mask to the family in order to get him released,” Ms. Williams said. “It shouldn’t have taken the NAACP for that to happen.”
The sheriff’s department was recently embroiled in controversy when it received $1.4 million from the County’s CARES Act coffers to help balance the budget and “avoid cuts to services.” A good chunk was to go to Corrections.
“I want to confirm that if they did get $1.4 million, what are they doing with it?” Ms. Williams said.
Also of concern is people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 from jail employees or other inmates, being released back into communities already hit hard by COVID-19.
“Some of the hotspots have been 95823 and 95828. South Sacramento. Meadowview… What’s the plan? What’s happening if they do get sent home? Do you have a place for them to stay?”
“There was something out there about them issuing more citations versus making arrests and placing people in jail, but I don’t know if all that is happening,” Ms. Williams said.
The Greater Sacramento NAACP urges members of the community to reach out if they have concerns about a relative in a County jail facility. The number to call is (916) 856-0155. There is also a complaint form that can be filled out online at https://naacpsac.com/.
By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer