In 2011, budget constraints forced the Santa Maria Branch Jail to reduce its hours from 24 hours a day to 7 p.m. - 4 a.m. Now the repercussions of that decision on authorities’ operations led Sheriff Bill Brown, 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, and many North County law enforcement and community leaders to argue before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday for a two-part plan to resolve the situation.
The supervisors unanimously approved the proposal, the first part of which will assign two existing custody deputies to transport arrestees to the Main Jail in South County. Because of the reduced hours, all people arrested in North County during the day had to be driven down by their arresting officers, a two-to-three-hour commute that took those officers off the streets and away from their regular beats. Many late-night arrestees also had to be moved to the Main Jail — due to their alleged crimes and/or medical issues — as did prisoners booked into the Santa Maria Branch Jail but ineligible for release. According to Santa Maria Police Chief Ralph Martin, his department alone has driven about 1,800 prisoners on about 1,100 trips for 160,000 miles — at the cost of $400,000 — down to the Main Jail since June 2011. The first phase of the plan will be in effect from January through June 2014.
The second part of the plan — scheduled to start in July and run until the new North County Jail is completed in early 2018 — will revert the Santa Maria jail to a 24-hour facility, with room for recent arrestees and 29 beds for longer-term arrestees; providing those 29 beds will mean a temporary loss of 50 beds at the Main Jail. Three of the 48 custody deputies slated to be hired for the new jail will work the extended hours. Because the plan was approved outside of its annual budget talks, the costs for this fiscal year — $272,000 total for the transportation team and the training of the three new deputies — will come out of the county’s contingency fund.