I was very disappointed to see the Independent‘s endorsement of Measure S, which would fund the construction of a new county jail. While I agree, as is stated in your endorsement, that there is no “social benefit from jail overcrowding,” your line of reasoning seems to assume that there is a fixed (or growing) population of inherently dangerous “criminals” that need to be contained and punished. Many people incarcerated in the county jail, in fact, have been arrested for minor offenses such as drug possession, panhandling, sleeping in public, sex work, or graffiti—“crimes” whose only real danger is possibly to tourism marketing campaigns.
Rhetoric claiming that Measure S will create a safer Santa Barbara County prompts the question: safer for whom? Certainly not for homeless people, Latina/os, teenagers, individuals struggling with mental health issues, or other populations often targeted by local police. I fear that more space in the jails will simply enable local law enforcement to intensify their frequently racist, classist, “zero tolerance”/”quality of life” policing practices.
The idea presented by Measure S proponents that the jail is bursting at the seams with rapists and murderers is simply not true. The jail is overcrowded, to be sure—a problem that was first identified when it was built in the 1970s. But I am disgusted that jail expansion is being portrayed as the progressive, humane option, supposedly only opposed by Republicans who don’t want to pay taxes. There are more than two voices in this debate. If our system weren’t incarcerating so many people, the jail wouldn’t be overcrowded.