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(145,896 posts)
4. Even getting access to federal installations can be difficult.
Sat Jul 13, 2019, 11:22 AM
Jul 2019

Years ago, I served on a county Grand Jury in California. It was a one-year thing. After I was on that Grand Jury, I read the laws regarding county Grand Juries very carefully. One thing I discovered is that State law in CA states that County Grand Juries SHALL inspect all jails and prisons in their jurisdiction. I discovered that the Grand Jury in our county had not been doing that, so I proposed that we inspect the State Prison in that county, along with a temporary holding county jail that was housing protesters of the nuclear power plant that was being built in our county.

I was told that wasn't our responsibility by the County District attorney, so I handed him a copy of the state law that said, specifically that we SHALL do that. So, we did.

And boy, was there a lot of blowback from the State, regarding that prison, and from the Sheriff regarding that temporary jail for protesters. I persisted. My argument was simply to restate the state law that said we SHALL inspect jails and prisons. It took half of the year to finally schedule those inspections, plus a day in court to argue the Grand Jury's case, which I did successfully. The judge ruled in our favor, so the inspections were scheduled, and our final report included a detailed report on our findings in both cases. We also inspected the County Jail, County Juvenile facilities, and all police department holding facilities. We got full access to all of the facilities for a committee of Grand Jurors, and spent several days conducting the inspections - the first ever in that county, as far as I could determine.

In the end, we found little that was seriously wrong with any of those facilities, including the temporary jail for protesters. We made a few suggestions in our report, but those were ignored, as expected. But the pushback from those in charge was striking, and I was not a very popular guy with the authorities in charge of those facilities. Not that it mattered to me, nor to the other members of that Grand Jury, who supported the inspections, since they had never been done before.

Bottom line is that government authorities do not like being inspected and reviewed. They will fight any such actions, even if they are mandated by law. On the upside, however, annual inspections of jails and prisons became an annual thing with subsequent Grand Juries. Our Grand Jury also created a manual that could be used by new Grand Juries to understand the laws regarding those bodies and how to make sure all responsibilities could be satisfied. As far as I know, that manual gets handed to each new Grand Jury for its review. I was in charge of Grand Jury reports and publications that year, since I was the only member with journalism and publishing experience.

All in all, it was definitely a worthwhile year spend doing something of value to the community. I recommend it to anyone who wants to participate in that way. Where I was, the Grand Jury was made up of volunteers who applied and who were selected and appointed by the chief judge in that county.

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