Please click here to read letters from women inside advocating that Blaine Street remain open.
And here to read a letter from Alcance of the Community Action Board advocating that a woman in Blaine be released rather than moved to the maximum security Water St. jail.
Sheriff Hart has asked people with opinions on the future of Blaine Street Women’s Jail to email Chief Deputy Craig Wilson at email@example.com.
Temporary closure considered for Blaine Street Women’s Jail
SANTA CRUZ >> Dwindling numbers of inmates in recent years at Blaine Street Women’s Jail in Santa Cruz means the lockup could be closed temporarily and its women sent to the Main Jail, Sheriff’s Office leaders said this week.
Sheriff Jim Hart said a decision has not been made but said he wants to talk to stakeholders about the advantages and disadvantages. Blaine Street, a minimum security facility opened in 1984, has a rated capacity of 32 inmates. This week it held about four.
In the past six months, it has held no more than 10 inmates, Hart said. In 2013, the County Jail — which includes the Main Jail, Blaine Street and Rountree Detention Center — was filled past its capacity nearly every day.
“The justice system and the correctional system is not the same as it was a few years ago. That forces us to look at all of our options when we’re using our limited dollars,” he said.
The potential closure is driven in part by the ratio of correctional officers to inmates at Blaine Street compared with the Main Jail. There are six full-time correctional officers at Blaine Street, compared with one correctional officer for every 75 to 100 inmates in the Main Jail.
The Main Jail is rated to hold 311 inmates, and its population dipped below that in recent months.
Hart said part of the reason for fewer women inmates has been 2014’s State Proposition 47, which reduced penalties for some nonviolent drug crimes. Many women who are arrested for drug crimes are now ticketed and released rather than incarcerated.
Other factors could be seasonal — with more people arrested in Santa Cruz County during busy tourist holidays — or it could be because of judges’ sentences, Hart said.
Sheriff’s leaders recently wrote a letter to county officials that said Blaine Street jail could close as early as July 1. Hart said it would not close July 1, and he and other leaders plan to meet with Blaine Street staff next week to discuss the matter and “quash rumors.”
A former inmate, Amanda Niemczyk of Boulder Creek, said she hoped Blaine Street would not be closed because its staff and programs helped her get sober and stay out of trouble.
“It is because of the opportunities that I was given while at Blaine Street — the classes, and the tools that I learned — that helped me turn my life around,” Niemczyk wrote to the Sentinel.
Women facing more serious crimes are house at the Main Jail. Two women were held there this week.
Women at Blaine Street typically participate in educational programs such as Gemma, which helps women transition to life outside of jail and tries to break the cycle of criminal behavior. Its participants, which also include women outside jail, have reoffended about 30 percent of the time, compared with the state average of about 70 percent.
“I’m a huge supporter of the Gemma program,” said Hart. “If we do temporarily shut that (Blaine Street) facility down, we will have a version of that program in the Main Jail.”
Terri Fahrenholtz, a Santa Cruz Mountains resident, said she’s been going to Blaine Street for 11 years to teach incarcerated women crochet and needlepoint. As an alternative to watching TV, Fahrenholtz said the women knit, talk and learn to get along with one another.
“It’s a very socializing experience,” said Fahrenholtz.
Fahrenholtz said she doubted that knitting needles and crochet hooks be allowed in Main Jail for security reasons. Hart acknowledged that was true. He said the program might continue elsewhere.