[Noozhawk’s note: This article is part of Day 7 in Noozhawk’s 12-day, six-week special investigative series, Prescription for Abuse. Related links are below.]
Name: Bill Brown
Location: Santa Barbara County
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown sees substance abuse as a growing problem among the citizens he’s sworn to protect as well as those he’s put away. Drug usage contributes to jail overcrowding and higher recidivism, he says.
Brown, a former Lompoc police chief, was elected sheriff in 2006 and he ran unopposed when he was re-elected in 2010.
He has worked with community organizations that look at larger issues, including recidivism and re-entry, mental health and substance abuse. In his view, he says, long-term change will only come from a balanced approach to law enforcement, which includes prevention, intervention and enforcement programs.
Brown has been at his most vocal during the county’s budget battles, and has said he feels as if he’s presided over the “systematic dismantling of the Sheriff’s Office.”
“When we cut, the one that gets cut is the one with the most future promise: prevention and intervention,” he said.
Eighty percent of inmates in the County Jail have a drug- or alcohol-related component to their crimes, so encouraging treatment is an important step to lowering crime levels and jail overcrowding, Brown said.
According to reports from the county Coroner’s Office, a division of the Sheriff’s Department, prescription medications, alcohol and illegal narcotics are listed as the cause of death in dozens of fatalities every year, with hundreds of other people showing up in local emergency rooms with close calls.
With such a high correlation between substance use and crime, it’s perhaps not surprising that California’s average recidivism rates are around 75 percent. But in Santa Barbara County, inmate graduates of the Sheriff’s Treatment Program have a significantly lower rate of being rearrested after their release, at 35 percent.
The program is conducted entirely inside the County Jail and it actually is supervised by a former inmate and addict. Brown said it was essential to have a “credible voice” in the program.
“This is an example where we have to walk the walk and open the door for someone who had turned around,” he told Noozhawk.
Brown is a steering committee member of Fighting Back, which is run by the Santa Barbara Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse, and he has thrown his full support behind Santa Barbara County’s re-entry philosophy.
With more state prison felons being released from their sentences early or being transferred to local jails, Brown has collaborated with the District Attorney’s Office, the Probation Department and other local public safety agencies to organize a re-entry system well in advance. Santa Barbara County is said to be “light years ahead” of others.
The County Jail is continuously over capacity and last year Brown pushed hard — but unsuccessfully — for a sales tax measure that would have provided millions of dollars for a new jail. The facility’s design was treatment-centered, with cells grouped around classroom areas for easier mobility of inmates.
Even as the Board of Supervisors continues to cut budgets, the Sheriff’s Department proceeds with efforts to combat prescription drug abuse through Operation Medicine Cabinet, which was launched under Brown’s tenure in 2009.
The program’s drop-off boxes are located at nine sheriff’s substations throughout the county, providing citizens a place to get rid of expired or unused drugs. Demand for the resource is high, with the drop boxes collecting about one ton of medications every three months.
“The realities are that a legally prescribed drug taken recklessly will kill you just as quickly as an illicit drug,” Brown said.