Why the Sheriff’s Jail Proposal Is a Terrible Idea

But doesn’t this proposal provide better programming, public safety and family reunification?

All jails are unsafe: imprisonment breaks up families and communities, causes people to lose their jobs and homes, and exacerbates mental and physical health issues.

Critical programs and social services, like permanent affordable housing and drug treatment programs continue to go underfunded. We agree with Chief Deputy Verinski that California needs sentencing reform, but we disagree that California voters should pay millions of dollars for a jail expansion due to legislative inaction.

The proposal’s promise of more programming in the main jail depends on space being freed up by the removal of temporary beds from “day areas”. But the proposal can’t guarantee a reduction in Santa Cruz County’s overcrowded population over the long term, and were the jail population to rise for any reason, there would be nothing to stop those temporary beds from going right back into the “day areas”.

 Jail System Targets Poor People and People of Color    

African-Americans make up only about 1.8% of Santa Cruz County’s total population, but a full 9% of our jail population. Santa Cruz suffers from a serious lack in culturally appropriate, services for its black community, both inside the jail and out.

Using criminalization as our response to poverty and homelessness has created this appalling situation: it is time to change our city’s approach.

Only about ⅓ of Santa Cruz County’s average total jail population will have access to programs in the new facility at any given time. And only those who are in custody for over a year with AB109 and who are non-non-non offenders will have the privileges to qualify for these new programs. What about those in custody for almost, but not quite a year?

We Need to Expand Community-Based Programs

 Community programs are more effective and less costly than incarceration. We could, in less than the three years that it would take to implement the proposal, strengthen community programs to prevent people from being jailed in the first place.

The more people who get treatment and services in the community for drug addiction, mental health issues and trauma, homelessness, unemployment, etc., the fewer people that will “land in jail” and the fewer jail beds you need.

Community programs are more effective and less costly than incarceration. Each person held behind bars in Santa Cruz County costs taxpayers an average of $97.17. Month for month, it is far cheaper to provide permanent housing for the homeless than to lock them up for petty offenses. Research and best practices show that transitional housing serves as a crucial stepping stone toward self-sufficiency and is proven to improve public safety and decrease recidivism.

Ways we can solve overcrowding and make more room for programming without this proposal.

370 individuals been part of the electronic monitoring program since the initiation of AB 109. Fewer than 4% have committed a new crime or returned to custody for technical violations. Changing the qualifying criteria for this highly successful program to increase the number of eligible inmates could further reduce overcrowding and free up programming space.

Expanding pre-trial release would reduce overcrowding and allow for more programming space.

In the minutes for a Public Safety Task Force meeting on Sept. 3, Sheriff Wowak is quoted as having said “There is no link between recidivism and time spent in custody.” If longer sentences do not prevent people from returning to jail or prison later in life, that means we can reduce sentence lengths without increasing crime rates. Instead of waiting three years for a bigger jail, we can spend the time working on sentencing reform. Shorter sentences mean less overcrowding, freeing up space for programs and treatment.

The Chief Deputy of Corrections should consider expanding the Custody Alternatives Program in order to decrease future jail overcrowding.

 Santa Cruz has been forward thinking during California’s public safety realignment by prioritizing community-based programming and supportive re-entry services. This proposal would be a significant step backwards. Counties are better equipped to employ alternatives to incarceration, and we should keep pushing to take advantage of that.

The Sheriff and Elected Officials need to focus on bail reform, sentencing reform, increased use of pre-trial alternatives, and treatment, before incarceration. All these reforms will result in less jails and less need for jail beds.

There’s simply no possible justification for a project like this – and we need to make sure the Sheriff and the Board of Supervisors hear that…



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