Members of Families ACT! and other advocacy groups joined outside the Sheriff’s Department Saturday morning seeking clarity on Measure S, a proposed half-cent sales tax that would go toward building a 304-bed jail in Santa Maria.
The group, which was founded in 2007, advocated for treatment instead of incarceration as a solution to curb jail congestion in Santa Barbara.
“No matter how many prisons we build, we will not be able to turn this around without treatment,” said Suzanne Riordan, executive director of Families ACT!
Gretchen Burns Bergman, cofounder of A New Path (Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing) and organizer from Mothers United Against the War on Drugs, showed support for Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana use in California.
“Sixty percent of drug cartels make their profits on marijuana,” Bergman said. “We need change in order to save lives.”
Bergman also said that overcrowding in prisons is a direct effect of stringent laws.
“Two thirds of our prisoners are there for a mere drug possession,” Bergman said. “Eight-five percent of prison populations suffer from drug and alcohol problems, 25 from mental illness.”
Bergman said that building a new jail would serve only as a temporary solution to the overcrowding issue.
“If we keep building new prisons, nothing will change,” Bergman said. “We need to know that if we vote on Measure S, it’s going to go to treatment.”
The U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its prisoners. One in every 32 adults in the U.S. is either incarcerated, on parole, or on probation under other correctional control.
Lasaro Coreas, Families ACT! organizer, said incarceration of Latinos is leaving many of Santa Barbara’s youth without parents.
Whereas 58 percent of Santa Barbara County’s incarcerated population is currently Latino, Latinos represent only 34 percent of the county’s population, Coreas said. “We face a problem where our children are growing up without their mothers. A new jail just means a new statistic. This is no solution.”
Families ACT! remains undecided about whether they will support Measure S.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of clarity with where that money will be directed,” Riordan said. “It’s a big piece of the puzzle.”