The questions raised by the Board of Supervisors on Monday over the need for and financing of the planned North County Jail continued at a forum on Wednesday night. About 50 people gathered at Trinity Episcopal Church in Santa Barbara to hear from an ACLU lawyer and a couple of former inmates, in a discussion hosted by the Fund for Santa Barbara and CAUSE (Central Coast United for a Sustainable Economy).
After a previous speaker noted the history behind plans for a second jail in Santa Barbara County — including the 2008 Sheriff’s Blue Ribbon Commission report on overcrowding and the 2010 failed county ballot initiative to increase the sales tax by one-half percent to pay for a new lockup — ACLU lawyer Jessica Farris launched into her presentation. For several years, Farris said, Californians have been shifting their attitudes away from incarceration and toward prevention and treatment. Alternatives like electronic monitoring, day reporting, and probation are “not slaps on the wrist,” Farris said and should be given more weight.
Although the 2011 passage of AB 109, also known as realignment, transferred the responsibility of some state inmates to counties, the passage of Proposition 47 last November has worked to reduce overcrowding across California, Farris said. The initiative demoted many felonies to misdemeanors, including drug possession, theft, receipt of stolen property, writing a bad check, fraud, and shoplifting, provided the crimes don’t exceed $950. Next year, the money expected to be saved from the change will be doled out to counties in grants.
(Since its passage, Prop. 47 has been targeted for amendments by state legislators looking to fill some of its loopholes. If they were to pass in Sacramento, the bills would be put before voters in 2016. One amendment would revert possession of date-rape drugs to a felony offense and another would revert gun theft to a felony offense, no matter the gun’s value. Another would require misdemeanor offenders to still submit a DNA sample, while the fourth proposed amendment would allow search warrants to be issued for misdemeanor crimes that were once felonies. )
While she noted that reductions in jail populations due to Prop. 47 are still “in flux,” Farris mentioned other recent laws that are only expected to exacerbate dropping inmate counts. For realigned state prisoners, a law that went into effect this January, AB 1468, will split the sentences between being in bars and being supervised. More than a year after it went into effect, AB 624 is expected to shorten sentences by awarding credits to inmates for the educational and vocational programs they complete while locked up.
Farris also urged counties to pivot to more pretrial releases, which 13 other counties favor. It’s an alternative that’s available to nonviolent arrestees who can’t afford to post their bail. Monitoring them is often far cheaper than keeping them at the jail, she said. Finishing up her remarks, Farris encouraged the attendees to ask county officials to postpone further plans on the North County Jail, which is slated to open in 2018.