Monday, February 18, 2008

Sheriff seeks state jail funds


For the second straight week, Sheriff Bill Brown will bring the money-laden topic of chronic jail overcrowding to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.
Brown will be seeking a green light from the supervisors to apply for millions in state funding to help pay for a new county jail – something the county has needed for decades.

During the Feb. 12 board of supervisor’s meeting in Santa Maria, Brown said in order to receive state funding, the county must actively pursue a site for the new jail.
The county would also have to accommodate the possible construction of a 500-bed secure reentry facility on the same site as a county jail.
Brown has said this reentry facility would be filled with the 800 to 1,000 state prison inmates that are released into Santa Barbara County each year.
According to a report released by a 20-member blue ribbon commission that Brown put together to study possible solutions to jail overcrowding, the county is in dire need of a new 300-bed jail in North County and new prevention, rehabilitation and intervention programs to combat a 70 percent recidivism rate.
Two days after the blue ribbon commission report was presented to the board, a County Civil Grand Jury released its own report on the topic, which also urged the county to act quickly and build a new jail.
The Grand Jury report also recommends the county seek the state funding, which is part of Assembly Bill 900.
Brown told the board last week that jail overcrowding has “deteriorated” public safety and will continue to do so if a new jail is not built.
The deterioration of public safety was attributed in the blue ribbon commission’s report to the repeated early release of inmates. As a result of jail overcrowding, the report says 1,784 inmates were released early in 2007, judges were unable to send offenders to jail for short periods of time and rehabilitation programs were overloaded.
He said the reentry facility, combined with new programs, will help reduce the high recidivism rate and with state funds, could cut the cost of building a new county jail from $80 million to about $24 million.
The board’s agenda letter says the operation costs of a new county jail would be about $13.2 million per year, but could be 27 percent less if located next to a reentry facility.
The agenda letter also says building the two facilities would spawn economic benefits for the county through newly created jobs during the jail’s construction and after.
“Together these facilities would constitute the largest public works project in the history of Santa Barbara County,” the agenda letter says.
But as Third District Supervisor Brooks Firestone said during the Feb. 12 meeting, even if the county does receive state funding, it still doesn’t have the $24 million needed to fund the difference.
Firestone noted the state budget deficit that is expected to top out next year at $14 billion. This deficit is expected to impact several areas of county government and is compounded locally by projections that show the county, even without state money woes, will be faced with making wide-reaching budget cuts to stay balanced.
Brown, however, said the county has been saying it doesn’t have enough money for more than 20 years and now is the time to act.
“We’re trying to address the problem as a whole,” Brown told the board last week. “You have to recognize that the timing is now. We have to be bold and creative.”
The board meeting begins at 9 a.m. at the County Administration Building on 105 E. Anapamu St.

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