Friday, September 19, 2008

County awarded funds for new jail


Dozens of inmates who are forced to sleep on the floor each night at the Santa Barbara County Jail got one step closer to a bed yesterday after the California Corrections Standards Authority board voted to conditionally award the county a $56.3 million grant to construct a new North County jail.
The grant is the largest to ever be awarded to the county, and was also the largest sum awarded at the meeting, at which seven other counties received grants.

“Today’s CSA action puts us one step closer to resolving the ongoing crisis of jail overcrowding in Santa Barbara County,” said Sheriff Bill Brown, who attended the CSA meeting in Berkeley.
The vote came a month after the grant funding appeared to be in peril. Brown announced in early August that the state would not permit a secure reentry facility to be built next to the proposed jail, as had been the plan for nearly a year.
But just as the giant grant appeared to be slipping away, Brown found what has turned out so far to be a feasible alternative for the reentry facility, the construction of which is the key to being awarded the grant.
That alternative came via a three-way partnership between Santa Barbara, San Benito and San Luis Obispo Counties to construct the reentry facility in Paso Robles on state-owned land. The Paso Robles City Council approved the facility last Tuesday. However, a number of details remain to be negotiated between the three counties, such as how the inmates will be released to their respective counties.
While Brown said he is grateful things have worked out so far, he pointed out two large hurdles that remain. The main issue being how the county will round up the additional $20 million or so that a new jail is currently projected to cost. This is an especially interesting predicament given county leaders have repeatedly said they’re broke.
The second pressing issue, Brown said, is the state budget impasse. As the budget stands, he said it doesn’t account for the multi-million- dollar grants, which are the result of Assembly Bill 900, the Public Safety and Offender Rehabilitation Services Act of 2007.
Asked if he felt it possible for the state to back out on the deal, Brown said he thought it unlikely.
He said the state prison system is in need of relief more than Santa Barbara County, which has grappled with lawsuits and other issues as a result of jail overcrowding for decades.
Aside from the legal issues with forcing inmates to sleep on the floor, is the regular occurrence of releasing prisoners after they serve only a fraction of their sentences, a practice Brown said threatens public safety.
The proposed reentry facility would have 500 beds, 250 of which Brown hopes would be reserved for a significant portion of the 800 to 1,000 prison inmates discharged into Santa Barbara County each year.
As it stands, these prisoners receive little if any preparations for readjusting to life after being dropped off at the bus station. As a result, Brown said it’s not surprising the recidivism rate at the state level hovers around 70 percent, a statistic about on par with the county’s and one Brown insists the county can’t built its way out of.
Brown said the County CEO’s office is expected to give the Board of Supervisors an update on the progress in the next couple of weeks.
The proposed North County jail would have 304 beds. According to Brown, it would be the largest public works project in county history and would provide major financial stimulus to the county’s economy through construction and the estimated 100 new jobs such a facility would create.
More information about AB 900 and the grant funding process is available at

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