Board of Supervisors Approve $25 Million Jail Expansion Proposal

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The Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors approved the proposal presented by local jail officials asking for a $24.8 million state grant. Santa Cruz County Jail officials are asking for the grant in order to add more beds and job training programs as well as reduce recidivism rates at Rountree Detention Center — a medium-security jail in Watsonville.

The proposal, presented on Oct. 22, seeks nearly $25 million and is authorized by Senate Bill 1022. This bill provides state financing for local, adult criminal justice facilities. The Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) determines which applicants are eligible for this grant money according to certain criteria.

Requirements for eligibility include presenting clear justification for any county trying to build 25 or more beds, as well as showing an intent to seek alternatives to expansion. Other factors, such as the approval of the Board of Supervisors, strengthen a county’s applications.

Prior to the presentation to the County Board of Supervisors, anti-strategy meeting organizer Tash Nguyen said the proposal was poised to be accepted.

“The jail officials went in asking for the County Board of Supervisors to accept the proposal knowing that they were going to accept it,” Nguyen said. “The action [presenting the proposal to the County Board of Supervisors] serves more as an endorsement to make the application to expand the jail much stronger to the pool of supervisors reviewing it.

Santa Cruz County Jail is now officially approved to submit an application seeking this money in order to repurpose their 250 bed facility located on Ocean Street, known as the main county jail. If the grant is awarded, the money will not be released until July or August.

One of the main reasons for the proposals is the current overpopulation in the main jail. Currently, the county’s main jail on Water Street has housed more inmates than its recommended capacity. The facility is rated to house 311 people, but continues to be overpopulated. The proposal claims additional bed space at an alternative facility, Rountree Detention Center, would reduce the strain at the main jail.

The proposal also seeks to add 64 beds that will be a change from temporary bedding to dorm-style bedding. In general, the facility is proposed to resemble college dorm rooms.

“The difference in design is important,” said Chief of Corrections in Santa Cruz County Jeremy Verinsky, one of the jail officials who presented the proposal. “These spaces are individual rooms with doors that close but do not lock, allowing the clients to have their own personal space and move toward a more normal environment as they get closer to release from custody.”

Besides adding bed space, the proposal stresses the need for hiring additional programs staff, expanding mental health services and custody alternative programs, such as working at a county in lieu of doing jail time.

Some community members at the anti-strategy meeting expressed opposition to expansion primarily because services like job training or 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous would be added within the jail facilities rather than outside of it.

“Santa Cruz could divert people from being cycled through the jail by strengthening and expanding community-based programs outside,” said anti-strategy meeting organizer Tash Nguyen. “Community programs are more effective and less costly than incarceration.”

The meeting brought together many members and groups of the community, including Sin Barras, a group seeking to eradicate the prison-industrial complex, and Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB).

Emily Harris, the statewide coordinator for CURB, attended the meeting. She provided both statistics and perspectives regarding statewide jail trends

“The idea for us in CURB is if it’s a jail cell, it’s a jail cell — whether it has a curtain rod on it or carpet — because at the end of the day those people are not able to go home,” Harris said. “However nice we make the space, the problem is that we can’t build a jail that’s good for families.”

Other members of the community supported the proposal’s goal to provide alternative programs for those incarcerated.

“Let’s be realistic, people are going to be incarcerated,” said Dave Rodriguez, a member of Inside Out Writing Project (IOWP), a group offering art and creative writing workshops to women and men in the Santa Cruz County Jail. “Tomorrow, we’re not going to open jail doors and people are going to be let out. I think we need to get these people to think they’re part of the community and reintegrate them. I understand the trepidation seeing these huge amounts of money come in, but if it helps the inmates work their way back into our communities, that has to be a good thing.”

Despite the proposal being accepted by the board, members at the meeting were well aware of the likelihood of the proposal being approved and are now looking to the future.

“We have to ensure that if we do get the money that the jail will not be overcrowded as promised in three years,” Nguyen said. “What we can do now that it has been accepted is to [make] the jail hold up their promise of reducing recidivism.”


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