Pixel Tracker

Monday, December 17 , 2018, 9:47 am | Light Rain Fog/Mist 56º


Santa Barbara County Awaits Word on How Court-Ordered Prison Releases Will Play Out Here

U.S. Supreme Court gives California two years to cut inmate population by more than 33,000

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld a lower-court decision that ordered California to release as many as 46,000 prison inmates over the next two years. Depending on how the state decides to meet the mandate — by releasing inmates outright, sending them to county jails or some other arrangement — it could have a large impact in Santa Barbara County.

The 5-4 ruling in Brown v. Plata, which was originally filed in 2001, found that inmates in California’s prison system do not receive minimal mental health or medical care, mostly because of overcrowding. The prison system is designed for about 80,000 inmates but currently holds more than 143,000, according to court documents.

Under the order, the state has two years to reduce the total inmate population to about 110,000, a capacity of 137.5 percent. With Monday’s ruling, state officials have two weeks to come up with a plan to meet the requirement.

Experts testified that crowding is the primary cause of the violations. California hasn’t budgeted for enough staff to meet demand — there are high vacancy rates for surgeons and psychiatrists — and even if the positions were filled, there isn’t enough space for more staff, documents state.

“(Crowding) promotes unrest and violence and can cause prisoners with latent mental illnesses to worsen and develop overt symptoms,” the documents say. “Increased violence requires increased reliance on lockdowns to keep order and lockdowns further impede the effective delivery of care.”

The closest state prison is California Men’s Colony, a minimum- and medium-security facility in San Luis Obispo.

The state’s next steps could be felt locally.

“If we have people who should be in prison out on our streets when we’re trying to maintain our resources, which are dwindling, it’s a cause for concern,” Sheriff’s Department spokesman Drew Sugars said.

The county doesn’t have the capacity to house more inmates, and Sheriff Bill Brown’s attempt at funding a new jail through a sales-tax initiative was shot down by voters in November.

Between the Main Jail and Medium Security Facility off of Calle Real, there are typically 900 to 1,000 inmates incarcerated each day, well above the maximum. For the 2011-2012 budget year, the Sheriff’s Department proposes closing the Santa Maria facility and is converting a meeting room in the Main Jail into a 50-bed housing complex for a net gain of 10 beds, Sugars said. The Sheriff’s Department is responsible for the jails.

The extra staff from the North County facility are needed to cover the increased capacity, but the change is estimated to save $1.2 million in personnel costs.

Law-enforcement agencies in the Santa Maria Valley and the California Highway Patrol will then have to transport inmates either to Santa Barbara or Lompoc, however, which could add up to two hours to the trips.

Another attempt to relieve state prison overcrowding is AB 109, which shifts the responsibility of housing lower-level, nonviolent offenders to county jails. Although signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in April, it will only be implemented once the mandate is funded, and as Sugars said, “it’s a pretty big check someone would have to write to make that happen.”

The pressure on local agencies comes at a time when they’re losing positions by the dozens. According to the Sheriff’s Department proposed 2011-2012 budget, 104 full-time positions — or 15 percent — were lost through the last four years of budget cuts.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.