Touring Santa Rita Jail in Dublin Tuesday with the Pleasanton Men’s Club, I learned quite a bit. Although I was active in the daily newspaper industry when the jail was built and opened in 1989, I never took the time to check it out in person—I had done that with the World War II-era facility it replaced.
We were guided through the huge facility by Sheriff’s Deputy Marcene A. Liskey.
Santa Rita is impressive by its sheer scale—133 acres with 850,000 square feet of space. The capacity is more than 4,000 inmates, although with the changes wrought by Propositions 47 and 57, it now houses about 2,000 inmates, about 200 of which are women. Half are units for maximum security inmates with the grassy yard used only for walking inmates to and from their cells.
In the medium and low security areas, there are basketball and volleyball courts and exercise equipment out on the large yards.
What’s particularly striking is there are only 36 deputies and about that many sheriff’s technicians (who operate the electric security doors) overseeing 2,000 inmates on any one shift. One deputy and one technician staff each of the minimum-security units that can house up to 150 inmates. When inmates from the medium or minimum-security units are in the open grassy yard, one deputy is supervising as many as 300 inmates with the help of the technician who also is watching carefully.
Asked what happens if a deputy is assaulted in a unit, Marcene replied that the technician calls for help and the other deputies from throughout the facility head for the deputy in trouble. That can be quite a sprint because the facility is a half-mile from end-to-end.
It also makes for plenty of steps for deputies responsible for moving inmates from their cell blocks to the transfer station for court appearances in Dublin, Hayward or Oakland. One deputy who has that responsibility said it means walking about 10 miles a day for him. The staff often moves 500 people daily through the intake, transfer and release facility.
It’s gets busier on holiday weekends or when there’s a full moon, Dep. Liskey said. A peaceful day for the jail crew is often a rainy one.
The need to move inmates around the county accounts for the meal schedule: hot meals at 4:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. with a bag lunch around noon.
One of the technologies that was cutting edge in 1989 was the automated robot sleds that move supplies and food around the site. The robots drop the supply carts in front of each unit, so inmates can unload them while supervised by the deputy. The firm went out of business shortly after the jail closed so Sheriff Charlie Plummer hired a couple of their people to run the system and bought spare parts.
It’s still functional today, nearly 30 years later.