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Jail Time?


Raising taxes for anything is difficult, and it should be. In 2000, I tried to get voter approval for a half-cent sales tax for the North County Jail. It failed miserably. So what’s different about that attempt and this one? A lot. My thoughts are based on 34 years of law enforcement experience and 19 years either working in or being in charge of the Santa Barbara County Jail System.

In 2000, we had fewer violent offenders in custody. We weren’t releasing so many inmates early due to overcrowding. We didn’t have state prisons starting programs to push more state offenders on local jails. We didn’t have the property purchased to put a new jail on. We didn’t have state funds dedicated to assist in building a new jail. We had tepid support from the Board of Supervisors. We didn’t have the broad coalition of community support for that effort. Measure S has all these things.

I guess the question should really be asked of the men and women who work the trades, own small businesses, teach our schools, and fix our cars—all those who are not appointed and elected officials on the official endorsement list: Why should I vote for this? The answer is that you and your families will be safer if you support this measure. Many of us came to this county because of its beauty and its relatively low crime rate. We still enjoy less crime than most other communities. Help the Sheriff, the chiefs, and all our public safety people keeping us safe by voting yes on Measure S.—Jim Thomas, Morro Bay, CA (Santa Barbara County Sheriff, retired)

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The arguments in favor of Measure S, a measure that would provide an additional 304-bed jail in Santa Barbara County, raise more questions than they answer. The measure includes a laundry list of items, some of which I find more attractive than the jail proposal itself—like “recidivism reduction efforts and alternatives-to-incarceration programs.” What is being done in that direction at the present time, and how would that be changed?

We are told that a new jail will prevent the early release of over 1,700 inmates annually. What proportion of total annual inmates is that, and how would they be selected? Are we being threatened with smoking guns or with smoking joints?

According to the New York Times (April 23, 2008), the U.S., with five percent of the world’s population, has almost one quarter of the world’s prisoners. We had over 2.3 million behind bars in 2008, or 751 for every 100,000 people. That comes to about one in 133 people. By comparison, per 100,000 people, England incarcerates 151, Germany 88, Japan 63, Norway 66. In other words, we imprison five times to 11 times as many of our residents per 100,000 as these countries do. Does this make them less safe than the U.S.? I very much doubt it.

A large part of our outrageous incarceration rate is due to our failed war on drugs. Also on the November ballot is Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana in California and change projected jail needs. (There were 858,405 marijuana arrests in the U.S. in 2009, according to the FBI.) Shouldn’t we wait and see what happens on Prop 19 before being hustled into adding yet another jail to the system?—Frankie Morris, S.B.

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