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San Diego Sheriff's Department launches changes in medically screening jail inmates

These changes come months after a state audit which found the Sheriff's Department did not do enough to prevent in-custody inmate deaths.

VISTA, Calif. — Beginning Wednesday, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department adopted new changes as to how it medically screen inmates in its jail system.

This comes months after a state audit found the Sheriff's Department did not do enough to prevent in-custody inmate deaths.

One of the biggest changes to the county jail system is the Medication Assisted Treatment program (MAT), screening anyone coming in to a county jail for substance use: and if necessary, treating them for drug withdrawal under close medical supervision.

"I am optimistic," said Yusef Miller, co-founder of the North County Equity and Justice Coalition. "I have to be optimistic."

His group has been fighting for reform for years in the county's jail system, which has the highest in-custody death rate among inmates in the entire state.

In February, an audit of San Diego's seven jails, which are overseen by the sheriff's department, documented 185 inmate deaths between 2006 and 2020, determining that the Sheriff's Department failed to adequately prevent and respond to those deaths.

So far this year, there have been ten additional in-custody deaths.     

These new changes mark the beginning of a more comprehensive medical screening process in county jails, according to Undersheriff Kelly Martinez.

"Upgrades have been made to our electronic health record system, to improve efficiencies while we maintain the continuity of care for patients," she said in a video released by the Sheriff's Department. 

The department is also launching a 24-7 health monitoring system, allowing medical professionals to communicate with each other in real time to coordinate inmate patient care.

"It doesn't matter what someone is in jail for," Martinez added. "Everyone in our care deserves to be safe and to be treated fairly and with dignity."

Miller said that he plans to closely monitor how effective these changes are. "It is a step in the right direction," he told CBS 8, "but we have a lot more work to do."

He is also pushing for a federal court injunction that would immediately mandate other reforms in the county jail system, such as improved mental health screenings for inmates

"Progress is being made, but we are watching with bated breathe because we need change now," Miler added. "People are dying, and we need it to happen now!"

The federal court hearing, in which a judge will decide on the injunction, is currently set for Thursday, June 30.

WATCH RELATED: State auditor issues scathing report on San Diego County jail deaths

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