Touring San Diego is on the list of many visitors to California. But for a group of Middle East dignitaries and their interpreters, they were interested in learning more about one of San Diego’s prisons.
Under the auspices of the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, Lt. Philip Bracamonte greeted a delegation of nine foreign dignitaries from the Middle East for a planned visit to Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility (RJDCF).
The dignitaries hold positions such as immigration officer in Iraq, director of Iraq’s International Zone Badging Office, head of communications for Jordan’s Customs Department, a lieutenant colonel with the internal security forces in Lebanon as well as a major and lieutenant colonel with the counter terrorism police intelligence unit in Sudan.
Through the use of the State Department Arabic speaking interpreter, Warden Daniel Paramo explained the complex mission of the institution. Warden Paramo also spoke to the delegation about one of RJDCF’s primary functions which is to house and treat high-risk medical inmates including inmates suffering from a mental illness. Warden Paramo went over the state’s classification levels and the fact that RJDCF houses both Low Level inmates to High Security Level IV inmates.
“Currently we average about 3,200 inmates at RJDCF, and about 70 percent are in the mental health program,” Warden Paramo said. “With the construction of a new facility almost complete, soon our inmate population will increase by approximately 800 inmates, and so will our mental health population. This will mean RJDCF will have one of the highest populations of seriously mentally ill inmates to house and provide treatment for in the state.”
Lt. Bracamonte pointed out, “RJDCF averages about 30,000 scheduled health care appointments a month for medical and mental health treatment for inmates.” One member of the delegation inquired if that was for the whole state. “No, that is for just this institution.” Lt. Bracamonte said.
The delegation was particularly interested with how the institution deals with gang activity. Investigative Services Unit (ISU) Officers informed the group of the different methods for obtaining information critical to the safety and security of the institution and the public safety for communities outside of prison walls. ISU also told the delegation about how prison investigators often collaborate with other agencies both local and federal to combat criminal activity.
Lt. Bracamonte explained the inmate’s due process – administrative and criminal – as well as the inmate work incentive programs. Community Resource Manager Robert Brown talked about different rehabilitative programs and inmate voluntary programs available to inmates at the prison. One of the interesting programs was RJDCF’s service dog program, where inmates train services dogs for children with autism and military personnel suffering from PTSD.
The delegation toured the institution’s Prison Industry Authority (PIA) where Lisa Gularte, PIA Administrator, talked about the different enterprises at the prison and explained the pay earned and job skills learned. She also said the shoe factory was capable of producing up to 2,000 pairs of shoes a day which are then delivered to other prisons.
While touring the Facility B recreational yard, members of the delegation asked about the colored vests some inmates were wearing. Warden Paramo explained in detail to the delegation the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). He informed the group, the colored vests identify certain inmates as members of ADA and prison staff will provide inmates with equal access to services and provide effective communication.
Members of the delegation spoke with some of the Substance Abuse Treatment Counselors, while visiting the treatment area. RJDCF’s Principal Kathy Balakian also talked to the delegation about Career Technical Education (CTE) programs at the prison. Some inmates who participate in these CTE programs can receive certificates to help them when they are released from prison.
At the conclusion of the visit, the interpreter wanted the Warden to know that the delegation expressed their gratitude to him and his staff. They said they know he is a busy man with having to manage all the different operations at the prison, but were extremely grateful to him for making time for them. They also said they were very impressed with staff and thankful for their hospitality.