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Advocates: Yuba County jail conditions back to ‘normal’

Rachel Rosenbaum
Special to The Union
Janeth Rodriguez, chair of the Sacramento Immigration Coalition, addresses Yuba County Jail conditions during a press conference at Yuba County Superior Court Wednesday, in support of immigration detainees' hunger strike.
Rachel Rosenbaum/Marysville Appeal-Democrat

Immigration detainees held in the Yuba County Jail have refused their ninth consecutive meal, marking an official start to a hunger strike in protest of conditions.

Thirty-six detainees started refusing meals Sunday but by Wednesday, that number had dropped to 15, according to Yuba County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Leslie Carbah. It marks the third hunger strike in 10 months.

The complaints are similar to those expressed during the six-day hunger strike in February: improving medical care access, which can allegedly take weeks, addressing unsanitary conditions and maintenance issues (like a current cockroach infestation), providing access to services, and addressing exorbitant commissary and telephone prices.

Sacramento-based immigration advocates spoke at a press conference in front of Yuba County Superior Court Wednesday and alleged that though conditions improved initially after February’s hunger strike (like regular access to AA meetings and church services), things went back to “normal’ after about three weeks. They alleged that some cells had no water or working lights, and that detainees were being held in daily 19-hour lockdowns.

Carbah said that some concerns – like TV scheduling – are being addressed, while others are not negotiable due to logistics, laws and regulations, or a court-ordered consent decree.

“We are following all policies and procedures as well as those lined out in the amended consent decree,” Carbah wrote in an email Wednesday. “We’ve had (and passed) numerous official inspections and tours by various governmental agencies including not only ICE, but (Dianne) Feinstein’s Office, (Sen.) Kamala Harris’s Office, and Department of Justice.”

The amended consent decree agreement, which was reached in August and stems from a 1976 lawsuit, orders that the jail make a number of specific changes including limitations on safety cell placement, improved detoxification procedures, the creation of step-down cells for suicidal prisoners, licensed psychiatric staff on-site 24/7, and other improved programming, according to Appeal-Democrat archives.

Janeth Rodriguez, chair of the Sacramento Immigration Coalition, said groups are advocating against conditions that are deplorable not only for immigrant detainees but for all who are held in Yuba County Jail.

“As we stand here today, a day before celebrating the day of independence of this country, we must ask ourselves, is this what we stand for?” Rodriguez said during the press conference. We must resist the xenophobic and racist narrative that comes from the highest levels of this country and demand an end to the human rights abuses that are taking place right here in our own backyard.”

Advocates were denouncing Yuba County Jail conditions but also spoke largely about immigration issues at the border and detention facilities in Texas. Advocates hosted a press conference at the courthouse June 22 with assistance from the Japanese American Citizens League of the Sacramento Valley.

The Yuba County Sheriff’s Office has had a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement since the 1990s, which has generated about $5 million in revenue annually in recent years, according to Appeal-Democrat archives. If the jail continues with its average of 182 ICE detainees each day, the contract could generate around $6.5 million per year. The department has said in past interviews with the Appeal-Democrat that the revenue from the contract is critical to department operations.

“These acts are being undertaken in our name to keep us safe, and to maintain an immigration policy that is clearly broken,” Rodriguez said.

Rachel Rosenbaum is a reporter for the Marysville Appeal Democrat. Contact her at rrosenbaum@appealdemocrat.com.

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