SACRAMENTO – Questions are mounting after drugs and dangerous contraband wound up behind bars at the Sacramento County Main Jail.
Investigators believe Zaronna Harris, a medical assistant assigned to the jail, abused her position to smuggle the items inside.
"I'm at my breaking point," Sheriff Jim Cooper said during a news conference Wednesday.
He directed his frustration toward the county's Adult Correctional Health, which contracts medical care from Avid Healthcare Services.
After an uptick in overdoses, investigators learned Harris reportedly conspired with an inmate to smuggle drugs and contraband into jail, including screw heads used for manipulating locks and manufacturing weapons.
Deputies arrested Harris along with four additional people identified as suppliers who neither worked for the jail nor were inmates.
In a scathing letter to the sheriff, the Prison Law Office wrote, in part, "Drugs are widely available inside the facilities and people are dying as a result."
"I can arrest bad employees," Cooper said. "I don't have the ability to fire those employees."
Hiring, firing, and discipline fall under Adult Correctional Health.
Cooper believes the latest case points to a bigger problem: jail medical is not working.
Whenever an inmate requires medical attention, two deputies are assigned, Cooper explained. On average, he said there are about 30 deputies working at the jail.
According to authorities, there have been times when 15 inmates required a medical run, which varies from high blood pressure to cuts.
Sometimes, seeking services outside the jail can last hours, ultimately tying up limited resources while racking up major costs.
For arresting officers, it is not uncommon for police departments to pay overtime during the booking process. Fewer officers on the streets may mean slower response times.
In a statement, the county rejected the finger-pointing.
"Meeting the requirements of the federal Mays Consent Decree is a shared responsibility between Adult Correctional Health (ACH) and the Sheriff's Office, as the operator of the jail.
Inmates being booked into the Sacramento County Jail have a Constitutional right to a standard of medical care, and Adult Correctional Health will not compromise that standard of care.
The County acknowledges that the intake and booking process is multi-faceted, does not solely include a health screening, and that adequate space is an issue, resulting in longer booking times.
The County is working, along with the Sheriff's Department, toward a larger intake facility and accessibility issues within the jail, in compliance with the Decree.
Adult Correctional Health conducted an analysis of medical send-outs earlier this year and concluded that 85 percent of send-outs were appropriate. Additional technicians and equipment can reduce the need for medical referrals. The County has used telemedicine services since June and will continue to assess expansion.
Adult Correctional Health looks forward to continuing productive conversations with the Sheriff's Office on how to improve medical care within the Main Jail."
Cooper claims most similar-sized counties opt for a private provider or a hybrid of the private and public sectors.
"We need change now. I want to be involved in that process," Cooper said. "What does it look like? I don't know."
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