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Grand Jury Evaluates Area Jails

Concern Over Overcrowding, Praise for Juvie Programs


The County Jail is overcrowded, some city jails could use some work, and juvenile detention centers are making headway. Such were the findings of a report released by the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury on Friday, which recently analyzed conditions at all of the public holding facilities in the area.

Not surprisingly, overcrowding at the Main Jail remains an area of concern and has since the 2011 implementation of AB 109, the state law that shifted responsibility for certain inmates from state prisons to county jails. While the jail’s capacity clocks in at 659, the jury found, its population surpasses that, clocking in at 726 last August. The increase in inmates has also come with an increase in the length of their lock-ups, too, with stays previously lasting 20 days but now often exceeding the 12-month mark. Services including electronic monitoring and the work-alternative program have helped to some degree, the report stated, but the 2018 opening of the North County Jail will make a major difference.

The current Santa Maria branch of the county jail — which houses up to 25 inmates — is helping in the interim as well, but could use some equipment like protective gear and office furniture. Sheriff’s Office substations in Isla Vista and Carpinteria face their own challenges — for the Isla Vista Foot Patrol, it is in securing extra staffing for large events; for Carpinteria, it is a cracked tile floor wracked with asbestos — while the holding facility at the County Courthouse faces some safety concerns that will be remedied with future construction.

Jails operated by cities in the county have smaller issues that are being addressed. The two-holding-cell Santa Barbara Jail, built in 1960, is due for a new air conditioning system, the replacement plan for which is in the works. Santa Maria’s jail is moving to bigger digs later this year.

Over at the 23-bed Lompoc facility, two security issues stuck out to the Grand Jury. For one, inmates are often left briefly unsupervised while an inmate is being escorted to court. “This situation sets the stage for the possibility of inmates passing contraband, fighting in cells, assaults, and other unforeseeable possibilities,” the jury warned. Also at stake is security, the report continued, noting that some staff at the Lompoc jail don’t take enough precautions to protect their keys while transporting inmates.

Circling back to the county level, the Grand Jury commended the efforts of the three juvenile detention facilities: the Susan Gionfriddo Juvenile Justice Center in Santa Maria, La Posada Juvenile Hall in Santa Barbara, and Los Prietos Boys Camp in Santa Barbara. The minors who find themselves locked up there benefit from the “quality of programs available,” the jury stated, adding that such “crime prevention programs appear to be having a positive impact.” At the center in Santa Maria, for example, the number of inmates has been decreasing since 2013 and a bigger focus is now being placed on their mental health needs.



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