Ron Crawford, of www.sewerwatch.blogspot.com wrote a letter to the SLO County Board of Supervisors. It’s posted here with permission.
On Sunday, the Tribune did a HUGE front page story on this issue, plus an editorial. Yet nowhere in that article was mention of SB959. Nowhere. Plus, I’m not even sure it was even mentioned in the staff report (though this whole jail project vote had been postponed when Ron first brought SB959 to the attention of the Sups, with one of them saying he was concerned with “the growing empire of incarceration.”)
The vote on this is today. Any bets on what a “broke” county with no interest in “Empire building” will do? Right.
Dear SLO County Supervisors,
Thank you for this opportunity to provide public comment for Item A-4, the women's jail expansion project, on your 2/22/11 agenda.
I urge your board to immediately stop development of the proposed women's jail expansion, and, instead, adopt an SB 959 style program of mandatory home detention, and then use a tiny fraction of the $10 million the county will save by the abandonment of the jail expansion project, to start a women's-only drug and alcohol rehab/prevention program in SLO County.
As I first reported in 2008 at this link:
... California law allows for counties in the state to enact programs that place "low risk" inmates on mandatory home detention in order to reduce overcrowding issues in local jails.
The law, SB 959, was passed in 2007, and supported by our local Republican assembly member, Sam Blakeslee, the California State Sheriff's Association, and was signed by a Republican Governor, Governor Schwarzenegger, and is already adopted by the vast majority of counties in the state.
SLO County is not one of them.
If your board were to immediately enact an SB 959 style program of mandatory home detention, that would, in turn, immediately remedy two HUGE problems currently facing SLO County government:
1) It would immediately eliminate the massive liability issue that currently exists (and has existed for the past several years, including since SB 959's passage in 2007) at the overcrowded-and-therefore-illegal women's jail facility, by giving the county the option to place the over-the-limit, "low-risk" women inmates, on mandatory home detention, where they will be monitored by skilled, law enforcement professionals.
That move would immediately bring the county into building code compliance with the currently illegal facility.
2) (And, this is really HUGE): Immediately enacting a SB 959 style program would also immediately solve one of the most awkward situations I've ever seen in my 20-plus years of covering local government.
By deliberately housing people in a non-building-code-compliant facility -- as the county continues to do with the women's jail facility, when all it would take to immediately remedy the situation is a simple vote by County Supervisors -- SLO County government is guilty of doing EXACTLY what they are accusing local rancher, Dan De Vaul of doing, yet you're going hard-core-enforcement on him.
See what I mean there? It's a very awkward, and highly embarrassing situation for the county.
For the past few years, county enforcement officials have been hammering away at Mr. De Vaul for violating building codes by, allegedly, housing people in non-building-code-compliant structures, all the while the County is housing people in non-building-code-compliant structures, when all it would take for the county to immediately remedy your illegal situation is one, quick vote, simply to do what most counties in the state are already doing.
You know, now that I see it written that way, as far as SLO County officials are concerned, I can see how reason #2 might actually be even more important than reason #1 (and reason #1 is an amazingly important reason, considering that those illegally housed inmates are ALL sitting on a jackpot right now, and they don't even know it... yet. Let's just hope that one of them doesn't trip on one of those illegal mattresses on the floor, and "injure" their neck, BEFORE you pass a SB 959 program, huh?)
That second situation is flat-out embarrassing for the county, and one quick vote on a SB 959 style program would immediately make that highly embarrassing situation disappear, AND bring the county into building code compliance, finally.
Furthermore, the numbers associated with the jail expansion project, are, again (and there's really no other way to put it), embarrassing -- nearly three times the cost (just to the county) than the national average to house an inmate.
And when compared to the cost of mandatory home detention? There's no comparison.
According to the (September, 2010) staff report, there's enough space at the current facility to legally house 43 inmates. However, also according to the staff report, the average population at the facility is 73 inmates, so, we're talking about 30 inmates here... 30... on average.
According to a 2009 Pew study, that I dug up on the Internet, incarcerating one inmate costs, on average, $29,000 a year in the U.S.
According to the county's staff report, the cost to the county to build the project is estimated at about $10 million (with another $25 million coming from a grant from the state).
I'm going to take that number -- $10 million -- and spread it out over 20 years, for $500,000 a year.
Then I'm going to add that $500,000 per year to the estimated cost of staffing and running the new women's jail facility of $1.8 million a year, for a total of $2.3 million per year, over the next 20 years, to build and operate the facility.
At that number -- $2.3 million per year, to build and operate the facility -- the cost per over-the-limit inmate, for the current average of 30 over-the-limit inmates, is over $76,000 per year... per over-the-limit inmate!
County staff states that as the county's population continues to grow, it's safe to assume that so too will the women's jail population.
At 40 over the limit, it's $57,500 per year.
And at 50, it's still $46,000... per year... per over-the-limit inmate.
Incarcerating one inmate costs, on average, $29,000 a year in the U.S.
According to the 2007 bill analysis of SB 959, "The cost of involuntary home detention electronic monitoring is about $10 per day."
$3,650 versus $76,000. (More than 20 TIMES the difference!)
Additionally, it's important, I think, to reiterate the background of SB 959, and its backers.
SB 959 was supported by our local Republican assembly member, Sam Blakeslee, it was supported by the California State Sheriff's Association, and it was signed by a Republican Governor.
The reason I want to reiterate that, is because, frankly, it makes absolutely no sense for the SLO County Sheriff's Department to NOT back mandatory home detention, 100-percent, yet they are not recommending it to your board at all.
The problem with that? Their arguments against adopting an SB 959 style program in this county make no sense at all.
What? Mandatory home detention for a handful of "low risk" women inmates, where they will be carefully monitored by skilled law enforcement professionals, is going to cause some sort of crime spike in SLO County, and therefore we need to spend millions and millions of dollars on a new, state-of-the-art jail facility?
If that's, indeed, the case, then why does the text of SB 959 read, "This (home detention) program has been very successful in Los Angeles County. The program's success has been two-fold. First, it saves the county money. The cost of home monitoring is $10 a day as compared to $70 a day for an inmate in custody. [And the] program opens up bed space for serious or violent offenders. The state and counties are all experiencing a crisis regarding limited jail [and] prison space. The home monitoring program is an effective solution to assist in alleviating overcrowding."
Again, with the embarrassment to the county... over and over and over on this issue.
I can't speak for all SLO County residents, but I am 100-percent positive that I will still sleep at night knowing that a small handful of "low risk" women inmates are being carefully monitored by skilled law enforcement professionals at home, instead of jammed into an illegal, county-owned jail.
Finally, when I last reported on this story, in September of 2010, at this link:
... I spoke with Frank Warren, of the County's Drug and Alcohol Services Division.
I asked Mr. Warren if his department had a women's-only drug and alcohol rehab/prevention program.
He said, they do not.
I then asked him if he has heard of such programs in other municipalities, and he said, "Yes."
I said, "I can imagine how women would very much prefer that arrangement, as opposed to both men and women."
He said, "Yes. That is true. That is what my research shows."
I then asked him why the county doesn't have such a program.
He told me that it is a matter of funding.
With all of the above in mind, here's is what I recommend that your Board do on this entire issue:
1. Immediately stop plans for the current;y proposed women's jail expansion. The design of that project alone is costing the county a fortune (some $2 million to date).
2. Immediately adopt an SB 959 style, mandatory home detention program.
3. Immediately place whatever the current amount of "low risk" over-the-limit women inmates is on mandatory home detention, which will also immediately remove a massive liability issue for the county, and immediately resolve that whole, highly embarrassing, doing-the-same-thing-as-De Vaul thing.
That action will also immediately save the county some $10 million in design and construction costs, and another $1 million-plus per year to staff and operate the proposed facility.
4. Immediately take whatever amount necessary of that $10 million (and I'm sure it will just be a tiny fraction of that amount, but please make it a hefty amount), and start a women's-only drug and rehab/prevention program in SLO County.
5. Then, if the current women's jail facility (now that it's building code compliant thanks to your SB 959 adoption) is really as bad as the Sheriff's Department paints it out to be (and, it kind of sounds like it is, which is another embarrassment for the county... I mean, what are we, Midnight Express all of a sudden?), then use another $1 million, or so, of that saved $10 million-plus, to simply renovate the current facility.
In summary, please immediately stop development of the proposed women's jail expansion, immediately adopt an SB 959 style program, immediately place the "low risk," over-the-limit women inmates on mandatory home detention, and then use a fraction of the $10 million saved to start a women's-only drug and rehab/prevention program in SLO County, and to renovate the current facility.
Thank you for your time,