A controversy is brewing in Santa Cruz over whether to reduce jail populations or expand capacity for more prisoners.
“Prison reform advocates are pushing back against the expansion, arguing that instead of increasing the number of detainees a facility can hold, it is time to decrease the money and work on creating and funding community programs instead,” said Katie Rucke of MintNews Press, an independent on-line journalism startup.
To ease overcrowding at the Santa Cruz County Jail, the state awarded $24.8 million to expand the jail and add beds and job training programs at the Rountree Men’s Facility by 2016.
“It is clear that the need for infrastructure to support the goal of justice realignment throughout the state is critical,” said Susan Mauriello, Santa Cruz chief administration officer. “These funds will support the work of the counties to achieve the goals of justice realignment and improve public safety as a result.”
Sheriff‘s Lt. Shea Johnson commented, “This expansion would be good for inmates. County jails were never intended to house people for a longer period of time, so we need to come up with solutions.”
“Community programs are more effective and less costly than incarceration,” said Tash Nguyen of Sin Barras, a local grassroots group dedicated to advocating for prison abolition and alternatives to incarceration.
“The majority of people sitting in the county jail are sitting in there pre-trial. They have not even been convicted, yet, they simply don’t have the funds to bail themselves out,” said Courtney Hanson, a protestor with Sin Barras.
“Instead of constructing additional space for incarceration and beefing up funding for social support programs operated inside of jails and prison, we should spend our money on programs that would help keep people from being incarcerated in the first place,” according to an editorial in the City On A Hill Press.“Santa Cruz officials have more of a poverty issue on their hands than a crime wave,” commented local activist Courtney Houston.
Under Gov. Jerry Brown’s prison realignment program, $500 million would be distributed to California counties to handle low-level offenders who formerly were sent to state prisons. Under this legislation, Santa Cruz would receive $25 million for housing 94 inmates. It is currently housing about 100 inmates at its Rountree facility.
According to MintNews Press, “The main county jail in Santa Cruz has been housing about 322 inmates in its 311-person capacity facility. Due to the overcrowding, two of the jail’s units have portable plastic beds on the floor instead of bunk beds.”
Critics of the expansion claim “an expansion to the Rountree facility would only amount to a Band-Aid covering the real problem causing overcrowding in jails across the state.”
Kati Teague, another member of Sin Barras, told reporters “No amount of extra beds will ever fix the broken policies that send so many to jail. We need to rethink our approach to incarceration – not double down on it.”