With less than two weeks left until the Nov. 7 election, Santa Barbara County Sheriff candidates Jim Anderson and Bill Brown are actively seeking out support from local voters during the final stretch of the race.

This year, the race between Brown, the current police chief of Lompoc, and Anderson, the incumbent, has been marked by a fierce endorsement battle throughout the county. Heated debates between the candidates have ensued, centering around plans to address the issues at the top of each candidate’s agenda – jail overcrowding and gang crime prevention.

Following a recent statewide trend, Santa Barbara’s jails have begun to exceed their maximum incarceration capacities, forcing the county to release prisoners before completing their sentences to make room for additional prisoners. Under Anderson’s current system, prisoners who receive premature release are monitored and tracked through the county’s parole office.

To alleviate the problem of overcrowded jails, Anderson said he had hoped to allocate funding for prisoner electronic monitoring equipment and for the construction of a new day reporting center – a program used by other states and counties that allows law enforcement to conduct daily mandatory “check-ins” with non-incarcerated convicts, giving officials the ability to more closely monitor former or would-be prisoners. However, Anderson said he is currently working with the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and officials at the state level to construct a new North County jail facility to reduce the surplus population in existing jails.

“All the sheriffs in the state are in a similar position to ours,” Anderson said. “Building the North County jail is a realistic goal, especially as our population of the county increases.”

Brown said he agrees with Anderson’s proposal for a North County jail facility, but thinks the project – which would cost around $153 million – is excessive. Brown said he is also skeptical of the proposal because voters turned down a similar project in the 2000 elections.

“I don’t think a jail of that size is either practical or realistic,” Brown said. “Citizens have been clear that they don’t want something of that magnitude.”

Brown said he would develop plans for a smaller, more cost-effective jail in northern Santa Barbara County and plans to negotiate an agreement with the Lompoc city jail to compensate for spillover when space is available. He also emphasized the importance of exploring alternatives to incarceration, such as Ventura County’s Work Furlough Program – an option for “low-risk” adult offenders to supplement manual labor in lieu of jail time.

“In Ventura County, over 1,500 people go through their Work Furlough program every year – and they save 10,000 bed days per year,” Brown said. “It has proven to be a very successful alternative.”

Both candidates are also devising plans to combat gang crime throughout the county, focusing on initial prevention and community participation in crime-reduction efforts.

Anderson said it is important for the community to get involved in reducing gang-related crime, especially with younger children.

“The youth need to have positive options provided to them from schools, businesses, faith-based groups and other organizations,” Anderson said. “Young people who don’t have these positive options tend to turn to crime and we need to spearhead the issue while we can.”

Anderson expressed his concern about youth drug abuse, and said programs that reach out to kids are important for the community. He cited his efforts to implement the LifeSkills Training program – an elementary school curriculum focused on preventing drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse.

Brown said he wants to bring the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) – another youth-focused drug prevention program – back to county schools and increase the number of schools utilizing the program.

“The D.A.R.E program was in the local schools and was canceled by my opponent,” Brown said. “He recently put in a replacement, [the] Life Skills program, but it only reaches 21 schools instead of the 42 that D.A.R.E. did.”

For the past month, the candidates have been involved in a fierce battle for endorsements, each announcing their new supporters for the position on a weekly basis. Anderson recently received support from four of the five members of the County Board of Supervisors, including 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone. Anderson is also backed by the Santa Barbara County Deputy Sheriffs Association and the Santa Barbara County Firefighters’ Local 2046 division.

Brown has also received a number of endorsements, including the California Police Chiefs Association, the U.C. Santa Barbara Police Officers Association, former County Sheriff Jim Thomas and Isla Vista Station Commander Butch Arnoldi.