Small-Quantity Drug Cases Not Cause of Jail Overcrowding
I have been practicing law in Santa Barbara, doing many criminal defense cases, for over 26 years. I am voting Yes on Measure S to build a 304-bed North County Jail in Santa Maria, as well as to fund rehabilitation, drug and mental health programs, fire protection, and police and sheriff’s services.
The existing jail in Santa Barbara has been overcrowded and in poor condition for at least 20 years. The courts imposed an inmate population limit because of severe overcrowding almost 20 years ago. Measure S is the best chance we have had in two decades to build a new jail, renovate the old jail, and fund fire, police, public safety, and rehabilitation programs to reduce the high numbers of offenders returning to jail.
The funds are budgeted for 14 years, to provide for construction, maintenance and staffing of both jails as well as public safety programs. The voters will then be asked how they wish to provide for these programs after that time. Even though Measure S contains a one-half cent local sales tax, the total tax we pay in Santa Barbara County is going down, because 1 cent of the state sales tax is ending next July.
There is a persistent myth that the local jail population contains large numbers of non-violent, small-quantity drug offenders, and that if only these “personal use” cases were removed from the jail, we would have no problems. This idea is totally wrong.
Small drug cases have not formed any significant part of the local inmate population for at least ten years. The Superior Court runs a Drug Court that diverts drug offenders into rehabilitation. These programs are underfunded and overcrowded, and Measure S in fact is designed to increase and expand these successful rehab programs. There are often a few people in jail on drug charges, but these are major trafficking cases and not small users. The vast majority of people in jail today in this county are awaiting trial for violent and serious felonies. Removing every single drug case from our county jail would not solve any of the overcrowding problems we have.
Most people do not realize that almost 60% of inmates are booked from the north county and go to court in Santa Maria or Lompoc, requiring great expense and time consuming transportation. Every weekday five to ten vans, each with 8 to 10 inmates, a guard, and a driver, make the round trip to north county. All that time, fuel, and money is wasted. A north county jail allows inmates to be housed near the court they must appear in, and be available to their attorneys, to their families, and to prospective employment or education opportunities. Today, North County families have extreme difficulty coming south to visit family members in jail. No regular bus service connects Santa Maria to the jail. Yet we know that strong family relationships are a key indicator of success in remaining out of jail and avoiding new offenses.
Measure S solves these problems, and allows us to use $56 million in one-time state bond funds that will be sent elsewhere if we do not seize this opportunity. Those state funds are more than 60% of the construction cost of the north county jail. We will have no choice soon, and must build a new jail regardless of the cost to other public services, because the present jail is nearing the point where the state will not allow it to be used. Let us act before that point, and seize this opportunity that will not come again.
Please join me, many of the county’s judges, our Sheriff and District Attorney, the Board of Supervisors, many city councils and private citizens of every political opinion from left, right, and center, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. Vote Yes on Measure S!