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Protesting Jail Funding

blog jailsSin Barras calls on community to reject jail expansion grant

The Board of State and Community Corrections officially recommended yesterday, Thursday, Jan. 16, that Santa Cruz County receive a $24.8 million grant sought for expansion at the Rountree Detention Center in South County.

Holding signs with slogans such as “Invest in Jobs, Health and Education—Not Incarceration,” members of Sin Barras, Californians United for a Responsible Budget and their supporters rallied yesterday afternoon around the Clock Tower in Downtown Santa Cruz to call on the public to ask our local Board of Supervisors to reject the funds and encourage voters to tell officials “No More Money for Jails!” The grant money is provided for in Senate Bill 1022, which allocates state funding for local, adult criminal justice facilities. The Board of Supervisors has 90 days to either accept or decline the funds.

Last year, Lt. Shea Johnson, who runs the Rountree facilities, applied for the grant in an effort to be able to reopen and renovate previously closed sections of the jail campus. She told Good Times she would use the grant to ramp up vocational and occupational education programs at the facility, and that it would provide more classroom space for teaching skills like basic computer programs, resume-writing and how to conduct oneself in a job interview.

Johnson and other officials with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office, which operates the county’s adult jail facilities, say the grant would also help ease overcrowding at the Main Jail in Santa Cruz. With the state’s prison overhaul in 2011, more inmates are being sentenced to jails for longer periods of time in facilities that were meant for short-term stays. The Main Jail is also consistently overcrowded, housing more inmates than its rated capacity. Johnson and others hope that by renovating Rountree, more inmates could be transferred there and provided training programs. County officials believe it would reduce crowding and help with reducing recidivism.

Still, members of Sin Barras worry that spending money on jails instead of on other important aspects of the community sets a dangerous precedent. They would rather see more money being spent on schools, drug prevention and recovery and other types of programs that could potentially help deter people from going to jail in the first place. The specific grant money county officials are seeking is only earmarked for adult jail facilities, but either way, “the taxpayers will be paying,” says Courtney Hanson.

Hanson is a member of Sin Barras and CURB who participated in yesterday’s rally.

“We’re hoping this is the beginning of building a movement over the next 90 days to protest the expansion of the jail,” she says. 

The Board of Supervisors approved the application for the grant back in October, but the application had to then go to state officials. Now that the state entity has approved the grant, it comes back to county officials for the final approval. 

Protesters acknowledge that Santa Cruz County has been relatively progressive and innovative when it comes to pursuing alternatives to incarceration, but they don’t believe it’s enough. They say all jails are unsafe and imprisonment breaks up families, causes people to lose their jobs and exacerbates mental and physical health problems. They call it an outrage that the legislation can allocate funding for community jails while critical programs like affordable housing, schools and drug treatment continually go underfunded.

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