Friday, May 9, 2008

State gives county $56 million for new jail


Chronic jail overcrowding in Santa Barbara County came one step closer to being a non issue yesterday when the state announced it awarded the county a $56.3 million grant to put towards the construction of a North County jail.
There is a condition however. Along with a new 300-bed jail, the county would have to allow the state to build a 500-bed secure reentry facility on the same parcel. The county would pick up the operational costs of both facilities, which is expected to cost $13 million each year.

Sheriff Bill Brown has described the partnership as a, “once in a lifetime opportunity.”
“I am extremely pleased that the state recognized our crucial need for a new jail and our continuing commitment to the successful reentry of offenders,” Brown said. “We still have lots of work to do before the new jail is built, but this is a major step forward.”
The Board of Supervisors gave Brown the green light to seek the funds in February after a blue ribbon commission on jail overcrowding had high praise for the state, county partnership.
Another big part of the commission’s report emphasized the need to tackle crime through a blended approach, which would place a significant amount of stock in prevention, intervention and rehabilitation. Brown told the board during a the February meeting simply locking people up doesn’t work well, especially when the prisoners suffer from mental illness and addiction.
As it is, the county’s recidivism rate is on par with the state at about 70 percent. Brown said the reentry facility would house about 1,000 state prison inmates each year that are discharged into Santa Barbara County. He said the services offered at such a facility would help reduce the likelihood of additional brushes with the law.
With the state grant, the county would have to find the remaining $20 million for jail construction, which has been estimated to cost $80 million.
Even with the state grant, which could cover roughly two-thirds of the cost, the number the county would have to absorb seems like a colossal challenge given the current fiscal situation. The county is expected to make more than $26 million in budget cuts this year.
First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said he remains “cautiously optimistic” about the project.
“We all know and we’ve been saying all along the devil’s in the details,” Carbajal said.
In order for the project to become a reality, he said two things have to happen. The first is the negotiations with the state about who will actually own the reentry facility, while the second is related funding.
Carbajal said the $26 million in anticipated cuts doesn’t take into consideration the state deficit, which could top $20 billion — a number that could require the county to make additional cuts.
“When you consider that it is a really daunting task,” he said.
The grant was made available by Assembly Bill 900, the Public Safety and Offender Rehabilitation Services Act of 2007. A total of $750 million was awarded to counties throughout the state. Santa Barbara County received the fifth largest sum.
Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf offered a more optimistic take on the situation than Carbajal.
“I am thrilled — though not surprised — that Santa Barbara’s well-thought out, comprehensive proposal was selected for full funding,” she said. “This is a huge step that will move us forward in meeting the challenges posed by jail overcrowding and community reentry.”

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