$60 Million and Little to Show for It

Jail Crowding Funds Included Supportive Housing for Mentally Ill Persons

Paul Wellman (file)

As you read this, there are about 150 nonviolent men and women suffering from mental illness in our county jail, and they shouldn’t be there.

It would be more compassionate, and cheaper, to give them what is called permanent, supportive housing (housing that includes social services due to lack of ability for independent living). Why isn’t the county making the right decision on this?

Here’s the backstory:

A law called AB 109 passed in 2011 that aimed to reduce prison overcrowding throughout the State of California. AB 109 ended up giving $10 million to $12 million every year to Santa Barbara County to help with this effort. The county was expected to use the money to direct nonviolent, low-risk prison inmates into either county jail or probation. The ultimate goal was a reduction in recidivism (rates of crime re-offenses), and much of the money was supposed to go toward local jail-reform efforts.

The law mandated the creation of a new group in Santa Barbara County called the Community Corrections Partnership (CCP). This group has included representatives from the Sheriff’s Office, County Behavioral Wellness, Probation, and others. The CCP’s task is to decide how the $10 million to $12 million they receive each year should be spent in service of AB 109’s goals.

In 2016, the CCP spent $97,000 to evaluate how well the money was being spent to reduce recidivism and implement jail reforms, as compared to other counties. The consulting firm, led by Dr. James Austin, concluded that the CCP’s use of money was ineffective in several regards. His team made multiple recommendations, including the elimination of current programs and suggested alternatives (see the report here).

One of the most important recommendations by Dr. Austin’s team was to allocate $400,000 of annual funding to permanent supportive housing for the nonviolent people experiencing mental illness. The CCP could have done this in 2017, reducing county jail population by 35-40 people. It didn’t.

As of 2018, the CCP has received over $60 million. Since 2016, its members have not implemented Dr. Austin’s recommendations, such as eliminating several ineffective programs or allocating funds for permanent supportive housing. The CCP continues to spend taxpayer dollars on programs that don’t help achieve the goals of AB 109.

The CCP has also been required to do public outreach, but most people don’t know the CCP exists. It is unclear why it has neglected to inform the public about its internal affairs or why the group has ignored the recommendations it received after spending $97,000 to receive them. But 2018 is a new year, and the public has an opportunity to hold the CCP accountable.

If the CCP won’t advocate for the populations as strongly as it is supposed to, everyday people will have to advocate in their absence. Please ask the County Board of Supervisors to reject any budget proposal set forth by the CCP this year that does not include a major increased investment in supportive, permanent housing for nonviolent inmates with mental illness who are suffering in our county jail. Demand that the supervisors perform a critical review of the CCP’s programs and compare them to the recommendations Dr. Austin’s team made in 2016.


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