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The lobby of the Santa Barbara North County Jail currently under construction

Paul Wellman

The lobby of the Santa Barbara North County Jail currently under construction


New-Generation Jail Set to Open April 2019

Innovative Design Could Reduce Risk of Violence


Picture a quiet, sunlit room with high ceilings, carpeted floors, brightly colored walls, and no bars. While still under construction, this is what the final product of the new North County Jail will look like, explained Sergeant Bill Wolf and Commander Thomas Jenkins, both with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office. “This is not a cookie-cutter jail,” Jenkins said about the facility, set to open next year in April. The 376-inmate jail is being designed as a “new-generation jail,” they added, one that allows for direct, rather than indirect, supervision.

Five out of the eight units, or pods, in the jail are designed for direct supervision (DS), allowing officers to be in constant interaction with inmates throughout their shift. The DS triangular pods will have cells along the unit walls and a common area in the center. Cells will have glass doors rather than bars, and the common area will have a section that is carpeted to reduce noise and echoes. Inmates will spend most of their day in the common area, where they will have around-the-clock access to showers and an outdoor recreation area.

Richard E. Wener, a professor of environmental psychology, evaluated the first of such new-generation jails 40 years ago and found they are safer for staff and inmates. In DS facilities, Wener found officers get to know inmates and can recognize and respond to trouble before it escalates into violence. Inmates at these jails reported lower levels of tension, risk of violence, and instances of sexual assault. The pods are designed with the expectation of good behavior.

“If you expect someone to act like an adult, most of the time they will,” said Commander Jenkins. When inmates do act out, they can be moved into more restrictive housing, therefore creating incentives for good behavior. DS facilities are also more cost-effective. They require 40 percent less staffing than traditional facilities and can save hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. Certain studies also found that DS setups allow inmates to get more out of rehabilitative and supportive programs, something Wolf and Jenkins say will be a big focus of the jail.

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