A Palm Springs man is accusing the Riverside County Sheriff's Department of discriminating against gay jail inmates because of a policy that, in effect, bans homosexuals from a successful drug rehabilitation program.
Michael Lamar Salomonson, 46, a chronic methamphetamine user, was arrested and charged with burglarizing a Palm Springs home in December. His attorney said that, during plea negotiations, the Riverside County district attorney's office agreed to send Salomonson to the 180-day Residential Substance Abuse Program at the detention center in Banning in lieu of a two-year jail sentence.
But sheriff's officials refused to enroll Salmonson in the program. Under jail policy, inmates who enter into county jails and disclose that they are gay are placed into protective custody and separated from the general jail population.
Inmates in protective custody are routinely rejected for the drug rehab program, said Roger Tansey, the public defender in Indio representing Salomonson. "It's a wonderful program, but they won't let him in," Tansey said. "I think it's just easier for the jail to run it this way, but you can't legally discriminate just because it's easier for you."
Tansey said he had no qualms about the policy to place gay inmates in protective custody, but believes the Sheriff's Department should alter the drug rehabilitation program to accommodate those inmates. He has filed a motion in Riverside County Superior Court to compel the Sheriff's Department to accept gay inmates in the program.
Sheriff's Chief Deputy Jerry Gutierrez, who supervises the county jails, said the inmates in the jail drug treatment program are housed together throughout the intense, six-month treatment process. Because of that, the program is limited to those inmates in the general population.
Enrolling inmates in protective custody, a population that also includes those with medical disabilities, victims of jail assaults and inmates convicted of sexually assaulting children, could create a volatile situation, he said.
"Our goal is to treat everyone who needs to be treated in our program, but there's only so much that can go around," Gutierrez said. "We only have so many resources.''
Gutierrez said the county will consider expanding the rehabilitation programs if enough inmates in protective custody qualify.
Run by correctional counselors and mental health professionals, the program provides daily therapy, counseling, education and 12-step recovery meetings. Participants also are eligible for vocational training. The vast majority of those enrolled are methamphetamine users.