A Blue Ribbon Commission on jail overcrowding met for the first time Thursday, as part of Sheriff Bill Brown’s quest to solve the decade-long problem. The group received a tour of the jail facilities, as well as presentations on the current state of the facilities, the overcrowding issue, and the efforts underway to relieve the problem. Brown charged the members of the community with researching the current problem in Santa Barbara County, as well as throughout the criminal justice system. He also suggested residents to look for short, mid, and long-term solutions to attack the problem and-along with Brown-address the Board of Supervisors with a “road map” into the future. As it is now, the overcrowding has created a danger to both inmates and guards and, at times, forced inmates to sleep on the ground.
The commission will meet twice a month for the next six months to try and hammer out some alternative strategies and solutions. Brown’s effort to bring in a variety of members from the community, as well as an assortment of experts to the taskforce is obvious. Thus far, 19 attorneys, city and county administrators, and homeless shelter advocates have all weighed in on the issue. There are a lot of people coming from a different perspective, and Brown is good at taking the information from all those sources and using it, said Assistant District Attorney, Gene Martinez, who also worked with Brown on Lompoc’s gang injunction. Brown himself was excited about the group, which includes Dr. Joan Petersilia (a nationally recognized expert on prison re-entry from UC Irvine), and Dr. Aris Alexander. “We are fortunate to have such a unique, talented, and cross-disciplined group to look at this complex and ongoing problem,” Brown said in a statement. “I am confident that by working in partnership we will find alternative solutions to overcome this critical community crisis.”
Santa Barbara attorney Robert Sanger-who wasn’t able to make it to last week’s kickoff meeting-is also part of the commission. Sanger’s history with the jail overcrowding problem goes back to 1981, when he filed a jail overcrowding lawsuit. The litigation has seen many forms over the years, and most recently he filed to hold former Sheriff Jim Anderson and the Board of Supervisors in contempt for their failure to offer a viable solution. For now, Sanger has backed off to allow the new Sheriff to give it a shot. “We felt, after talking with him, it was only fair to give him an opportunity to make some changes,” Sanger said, referring to a meeting he and Public Defender Greg Paraskou had with Brown.