Mule Creek State Prison




Law and disorder - Grand Jury slams courthouse location, says schools in danger

Friday, July 18, 2008

By Bethany A. Monk (

The Amador County Grand Jury recently released its 2008 report, which included critical findings for the county jail, conservator's office and Mule Creek State Prison. 
Photo by: Raheem Hosseini 

Sheriff's Bailiff Fred Walker scans items at the security check point at the Amador Superior Court, where, according the recently released 2007-08 Grand Jury Report, there is not enough space to accommodate the court's current and future needs. 
Photo by: Bethany A. Monk 

The Amador Superior Court's built-in security systems wouldn't be able to stop someone from escaping or, possibly, creating a dangerous hostage situation at an area school, according to the county's recently released grand jury report.

Right across the street from the courthouse, located in Jackson, sit both Jackson Preschool and Argonaut High School, which together house about 500 minors, posing the question: How safe are these and other students in the county?

The 2007-08 Amador County Grand Jury Report, released last month, includes studies and findings related to several issues, including the courthouse's location, its safety and security standards, as well as comprehensive reports and recommendations for other county entities like Health & Human Services, Planning & Environment, Criminal Justice Detention & Facilities and Education.

The potential for disaster at a local school is just one of the several findings in one of the many categories in the 38-page report.

The grand jury, directed by the state Constitution, is part of the judicial branch and acts as a "civil watchdog" by researching and answering citizen complaints, according to the report. The jury is made up of 18 Amador residents and investigates city and county government and special districts to make sure county residents are being served adequately. Jury members review and evaluate procedures, methods and systems "to determine if more efficient and economical programs might be employed." Following that research, the grand jury issues a final report that lays out its recommendations.

A recurring theme throughout three of the entities - the county courthouse, Mule Creek State Prison and the county conservator's office - is that of space, or lack thereof, and the need for expanded facilities.

Amador Superior Court

After research and interviews with several people, including former county schools Superintendent Mike Carey, local school administrators and several members of law enforcement, the grand jury issued a list of eight findings and four recommendations regarding the courthouse.

The findings conclude that the Begovich Building is too small for the court's current and future needs and states that "It would be more advantageous to relocate the courthouse closer to the County Detention Facility and District Attorney's Offices."

Amador Superior Court Executive Officer Hugh Swift agrees. "We need a larger facility," he told the Ledger Dispatch last week. "The court has obviously grown as population has grown," added Swift, who began working at the court as a research attorney in 1999. In October 2004, he began his new role as executive officer.

On June 25, 2007, the court moved from its location at 108 Court St. near downtown Jackson to its current location in the former Begovich Building on Argonaut Lane. There were plans, Swift said, for the courthouse to be built at the site of where the hospital was on 810 Court St. "But the county board of supervisors voted otherwise," he said. Instead, the county voted to build the County Administration Building in that location.

"We're expecting more population growth and more casinos. We're not expecting prison population (in the county) to decrease. We certainly agree that the court needs a larger facility," he said. The court doesn't technically have to respond to the report, but Swift said it plans to.

There are only three courtrooms in the courthouse, Swift explained, adding that it would be highly conducive to have another one. Only two of the rooms have seating available for a jury. Recently, a trial in process had to go into recess when the courtroom in use was needed for other business. "It can cause an inconvenience," Swift said. "We average about 30 jury trials a year, which is a fairly high number for a two-judge court."

The county currently owns the courthouse building on Argonaut Lane, but within the next couple of months, it will transfer ownership to the state of California, Swift said.

The grand jury report also concludes that the courthouse's current location poses "a significant risk" to the nearly 500 children in the area - at both Argonaut High School and Jackson Preschool - and has significantly increased intruder incidents at both schools.

"Incidents at the Courthouse are a catalyst for lockdowns occurring at the High School and other adjacent campuses, interrupting the learning process," the report states in its findings section. "Our school's environment should be a safe and secure place for learning, not one that is fraught with potential violence."

Moving the courthouse to "a more appropriately zoned location" farther from schools and a residential neighborhood" would help reduce the chance for a potential catastrophic event at county schools,the report says.

Swift said he's never witnessed a shooting incident the courthouse or at a local school since he's worked at the courthouse, but has been aware of other types of incidents in the courtrooms.

Although the courthouse needs more space, the new location is better than the old location, Swift said. "The building is definitely an improvement over what we had," Swift said. "It's more secure, more comfortable. It's a better working environment and is more accessible to the public."

Mule Creek State Prison

Space is also an issue for Mule Creek State Prison. Located in the city of Ione, the prison is a "sensitive needs" facility, meaning many of its inmates are post-gang involved and unable to live among the general prison population, the report states.

About 500 inmates are enhanced outpatient inmates, meaning they are dealing with more mental health issues than other inmates. The facility was designed for 1,700 inmates when it opened in 1987 and now houses more than 3,600.

Members of the grand jury reviewed and toured the prison on Jan. 11. They also conducted interviews with the prison's warden, public information officer and the budget analyst.

Overcrowding is and has been a problem for the prison - its gymnasiums have been converted to inmate housing with dormitory-like units "with no privacy for inmates and limited security for staff and inmates." The medical wing, mostly the pharmacy area, is overcrowded as well; however, plans are in the works to help eradicate this area.

Conservator's Office

Employees in this office are "overextended" and are working in a tight working environment, according to the grand jury.

The Amador County Public Conservator/Guardian's job is to protect and manage people's assets for groups including senior citizens, children or disabled adults who may not be able to take care of themselves or have no family. The office provides services for both voluntary and court-ordered clients under directions of the district attorney's office and Amador County Superior Court supervision.

After extensive research - including interviews with the district attorney, chief deputy public administrator, DA investigators and others - jury members found that the staff is stretched thin and lacks adequate work space, causing some staff to "share very small offices." The elderly population in the county is increasing and, with limited staff, office personnel are overextended.

Calls to the office were not returned before deadline.

For more information regarding the grand jury report, call 223-2574 or visit   to access the complete report.


Mule Creek State Prison to provide bottled water to those impacted by contaminated well water

Friday, January 12, 2007

By Judie Marks (

An aerial view of Mule Creek State Prison, which has been beset by overcrowding and water contamination issues. 
Photo by: Jack Mitchell 

Mule Creek State Prison is now providing bottled water to neighbors in Ione whose wells have been contaminated by the prison's overflowing sewage treatment facilities.

That was the word from Supervisor Richard Forster at this week's Amador County Board of Supervisors meeting.

Forster also told the board that Mule Creek had "headed off disaster" when breakdowns at another prison had prompted the prison industries office to ask that more of the statewide prison system's laundry be done in Ione.

"We did have a meeting with Warden Richard Subia about a week ago," Forster said. "We discussed his priorities. His No. 1 priority is to clean up the wastewater."

Forster said the county plans to work with the warden to try to get money allotted to help in the cleanup.

In turn, the county may soon receive state help in its efforts. Sen. Dave Cox (R-Fair Oaks) will host a town hall meeting next week regarding the prison's wastewater issues.

"It is clear that Mule Creek State Prison has a significant impact on the city of Ione and the surrounding communities," Cox said in a statement. "I want to provide this opportunity for area residents to hear from Secretary (James) Tilton and Warden Subia, and for the secretary and the warden to hear from area residents."

In December, high nitrate concentrations were found in three private wells near Mule Creek State Prison and owners of those wells were advised not to drink the water.

For months the supervisors have been hearing reports that leaks and inadequate treatment of sewage at the prison are causing problems in the nearby creek and are contaminating wells in the area.

Nevertheless, supervisors were told in November that the number of prisoners at Mule Creek reached 4,019, though the prison was designed for only 1,700. 

Former Mule Creek Warden Rosanne Campbell had said she was going to try to bring the prison population down, but officials conceded that she had no control over how many inmates are incarcerated there.

Forster said county officials also met recently with Jim Tilton, the secretary of the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and were assured that the county will be included on the list of regular attendees at future meetings.

The prison director, he said, stated that he wanted Mule Creek to be the model for the rest of the state. One big difference of opinion still remains between the prison system and the county, however, Forster said, because Tilton continues to advance plans for expansion of the prison.

"They know we have issues with that and we have to try to work through those," Forster said.

Louis Boitano, the new chairman of the board of supervisors, said he, too, felt that the Jan. 2 meeting with the new warden was helpful. "I found Mr. Subia very refreshing," Boitano said.

County Administrative Officer Pat Blacklock noted that it is clear that prison expansion is "back on the table," and the issue will continue to be important for the county.

The town hall meeting will be held Jan. 16 at Ione Junior High School, located at 450 Mill St. in Ione, beginning at 6:30 p.m.

 Mule Creek Prison Guard

 Mule Creek Torture

 Three Strikes Legal - Index