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Santa Cruz Doesn't Want Jail Money!
On January 16th the Board of State and Community Corrections approved funding for a $24 million jail expansion project at Watsonville's Rountree Detention Center. The Sheriff's Department promises to provide educational and treatment programs in the new facility, but we know that jails are not effective learning environments. Sin Barras rallied with over 60 people at the downtown clocktower last month and now the decision is on the county Supervisors-- let's tell them we need to stop this now!
Sample letter to send:
Dear Board of Supervisors,
On January 16th, the Board of State and Community Corrections granted Santa Cruz County nearly $25 million to cover the construction costs of expanding and reopening an empty wing of Rountree Detention Center. I urge you to reject the offer.
Claims that the new facility would reduce overcrowding and free up programming space at the Main Jail are predicated on assumptions of the jail population remaining stable well into the future. But if there is another increase in the jail population, there is nothing to stop temporary beds from once again pushing programs out of the “day areas.” When this comes to pass, we will be left with a larger, but still overcrowded and still program-deficient jail.
Importantly, the facility would not open until at least November 2016, until which time overcrowding and inadequate programming would continue unabated. Three years is ample time to improve and expand the county’s existing Custody Alternatives Program, implement a host of sentencing reforms, and establish more options for those who cannot afford bail--this would make room to provide adequate programming space the Sheriff advocates for without wasting millions of dollars on construction. Santa Cruz is already a leader in these fields, and should continue to push for innovative responses to problems in our criminal justice system.
In addition to these reforms, Santa Cruz County could divert people from being cycled through the jail by strengthening and expanding community-based programs outside. True rehabilitation can hardly take place in a setting where human beings are fenced in, kept separate from the community to which they must be accountable. A better way to help someone re-integrate to the outside world is to let them join it, and provide ongoing support in the community, while regularly evaluating the efficacy of various methods of service delivery.
I firmly believe that re-opening an unused facility will not solve the problems of overcrowding and an endlessly-expanding prison system. Programs that the Sheriff is advocating for should not be contingent on additional space and I asked that the Sheriff and Board of Supervisors work diligently to address the root causes of overcrowding. This means advocating for social services outside of the jail, working on population reduction, and also recognizing our responsibility as a leading county in realignment to push for statewide bail and sentencing reform. For these reasons, I urge you to reject BSCC's grant money and support alternatives to incarceration that do not involve jail expansion.