Custody Crunch

I recently joined the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office as the Chief of Custody Operations. My career in corrections began in 1982 when I joined the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office in Syracuse, New York, as a Custody Deputy. Over the last several years, I became active in the New York State Sheriff’s Association and the American Jail Association, working as a consultant and assessor of jails across the country. In that capacity, I have toured a countless number of correctional facilities over the years.

The core mission of every correctional facility is rehabilitation. We should always strive to make a positive impact on the members of our community who are committed to our care. Santa Barbara County lacks the appropriate facilities, and as a result, we are failing in that mission. The offenders who are released from our jail are, for the most part, no better prepared to be successful in the community than when we booked them. The ones who are most at risk to reoffend, the mentally ill and the addicted, are the most adversely affected. This is simply because we do not have either the physical plant or the staffing resources required to deliver modern and effective custody services.

The community has been placed on notice, by numerous studies and reports, that the current facilities are inadequate. The current litigation relative to overcrowding has remained in our local court only because there has been perceived progress toward building a new facility. If this case is moved to federal court, the county will be in a very poor position. In my experience, federal magistrates will impose their judgment regardless of the cost or the county’s means to pay.

Furthermore, the conditions in the jail are also detrimental to the custody staff. As the sheriff seeks to fill positions and reduce the operating costs, his efforts are challenged by the fact that all he can offer potential new staff members is an overcrowded and rundown facility. This project will place the sheriff in a much better position to recruit, hire, and retain competent staff.

The discussion around building this jail has been underway for years. We have the opportunity to end the discussion and begin the work. We should do so. This matter will be considered by the Board of Supervisors on Monday, May 23, at 9 a.m.

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