Grand Jury Report for Merced Jails

Fresno, CA The annual Merced County Grand Jury report paints a disturbing picture of both the County's jails. It claims cell blocks in the decades old main jail are in quote, "deplorable" condition, with rusted metal surfaces, peeling paint, and evidence of water leaks. The grand jury says those problems could increase inmate disturbances and the potential for escapes.

"We're working on that, we have been working on it, but you have to understand that we would have to relocate those prisoners for an indefinite period of time," said Mark Pazin, Merced County Sheriff.

Sheriff Park Pazin says that might even require shipping inmates to neighboring counties because there's no extra room at the John Latorraca Correctional Facility. In fact, the Grand Jury found overcrowding and understaffing there at crisis levels. As a result, the report says some inmates are frequently beaten by their cell mates and correctional officers are also at risk.

"I've always expressed my concern since becoming Sheriff in 2002 that we need more personnel."

Sheriff Pazin says the problem is finding the funding to hire more officers and expand the jail. The county applied for a state grant to add space for 96 beds, but did not make the cut. However, county officials point out they have made public safety a priority in recent annual budgets.

"Over the past 5 years there have been more than 22 correctional officers added, including 5 this last fiscal year," said Katie Albertson, Merced County Spokeswoman.

And Sheriff Pazin says his department has also invested in stab proof vests to protect the officers he already has.

"Our officers are strongly urged to wear those stab proof vests, and they do. And we hope if there is any type of attack that that vest will save their lives."

But Pazin and the board of supervisors are still hoping for additional state funding.

"Quite frankly we're waiting to see if the state can get out of their financial doldrums, add a little common sense to how they dispense their money. And I hope public safety is insulated from any drastic cuts."

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