Northern Branch Jail's housing area | Credit: Courtesy

Santa Barbara County’s Northern Branch Jail is up and running in Santa Maria after being cleared for occupancy on January 22. On Monday, the Sheriff’s Office Custody Division transferred 244 inmates from the Main Jail to the Northern Branch Jail, which was completed in November 2021 but still needed a few kinks worked out before being cleared for population.

The first bus leaving the Main Jail. | Credit: Courtesy

The move comes on the heels of the worst COVID outbreak at the Main Jail since the start of the pandemic, with 221 individuals testing positive in just over a month. “Toward the beginning of the current COVID outbreak in the Main Jail, the Sheriff’s Office recognized that the opening of the Northern Branch Jail would offer a much-needed opportunity to decompress the population in the Main Jail and control the spread of COVID,” said Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Raquel Zick.

A few items were still needed for total approval to move and house inmates in the new branch, but a joint effort by the Northern Branch Jail Transition Team, Sheriff’s Office Systems and Technology, general services, and SJ Amoroso Construction helped expedite the process for full clearance.

In order to mitigate the risk of further COVID spread, each individual was tested and provided with N95 masks prior to transportation. There have been no positive tests reported at the new branch.

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“Seeing the Northern Branch Jail finally occupied is like watching a ship being launched from dry dock,” said Sheriff Bill Brown. “There have been many challenges and delays during the construction process and due to the pandemic, but, because of the efforts of many people, the vessel is finally underway.”

The new state-of-the-art facility will change the lives of offenders for the better, Brown said, and the greater community will be safer in turn. “My thanks to everyone inside and outside the Sheriff’s Office who worked so hard to make this day possible,” he said.

Friends and family members of incarcerated individuals are encouraged to visit, and check the “Who’s in Custody” link to determine if their friend or family member has been moved to the Northern Branch Jail.  Due to COVID-19 restrictions, inmate visitation has been suspended indefinitely at both jail facilities.

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