Tuesday, September 25 , 2018, 11:16 am | Overcast with Haze 63º

 
 
 
 
Advice

Joe Armendariz: Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Should Support North County Jail

Crime is increasing in California. In Los Angeles, crime increased by almost 13 percent in the first six months of 2015. Violent crimes increased by more than 20 percent and property crimes increased by more than 10 percent.

Armendariz
Joe Armendariz

Similarly, in San Francisco, car burglaries are up 47 percent in 2015 compared to 2014, car thefts are up 17 percent, and overall robberies are up 23 percent.

In our local Santa Barbara County communities, crime also appears to be headed up.

In December 2014, there was an average of 795 inmates per day at the existing, inadequate jail on the South Coast. On a recent day in September, there were 964 inmates in the County Jail, and for the entire month of July 2015 (the most recent entire month for which there are data) the number of inmates in county jail averaged 879 — an increase of more than 10 percent since December.

There is serious discussion in county circles that the Board of Supervisors will approve the $80 million grant from the state of California for the new 376-bed jail in the North County, but not accept the $40 million grant from the state for the 228-bed STAR (Sheriff's Transition and Re-entry) complex to be located there. This would be a huge mistake — and would cost local taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

Members of the Sheriff’s Department and County Executive Officer Mona Miyasato have worked hard over a period of many years to secure the $120 million in grants from the state for the proposed new North County branch jail. Grand jury after grand jury has castigated the county for the existing jail. The fact is that the current jail is overcrowded, and inadequate.

Why would a majority of the Board of Supervisors throw away $40 million? When this issue comes to the board in the near future, the community should speak loudly and clearly that conditions in the current jail are not acceptable, that crime in the state and in the county are increasing, and that the full state grants of $120 million must be accepted to build the entire 604-bed facility in the North County — including the STAR complex.

Any other course by the Board of Supervisors would reduce the safety of county residents and, equally important, increase recidivism.

The STAR complex is essential to reducing crime in Santa Barbara County. If criminals are not rehabilitated and trained for jobs, they will commit new crimes. It’s as simple as that.

Building the STAR complex will not only reduce crime, but it is the humane thing to do. The cycle of crime — the revolving door of criminal activity — that so many county jail inmates are in must be broken.

There are many financial benefits to the entire proposed new jail in the North County. Currently, police departments in the northern part of the county must drive individuals who are arrested to County Jail in the southern part of the county at great time and expense.

Similarly, inmates in the South Coast jail must be transported back to the North County on a daily basis for trial and other court proceedings. These expenses will be mostly eliminated by the new North County jail.

The county Superior Court has found the current jail on the South Coast out of compliance and in violation of required jail standards. As a result of the deplorable state of the existing jail, if the Board of Supervisors does not accept the full $120 million in grants now, local taxpayers will simply have to pay the difference later.

The County of Santa Barbara has already expended its share of the grant expenses to acquire the land for the new jail and STAR complex and perform necessary environmental studies.

Santa Barbara County taxpayers should support the new North County branch jail, and the Board of Supervisors should vote to accept the full $120 million in grants from the state to build it. Public safety is the first responsibility of government.

— Joe Armendariz is executive director of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association.

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