Following more than a year of planning and reporting, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in support of a plan to seek state funding for a new county jail at their weekly meeting yesterday.

The plan relies partially on California Assembly Bill 900 to provide $58 million for the construction of the proposed jail, which would contain at least 300 new beds and cost roughly $80 million. However, the bill also stipulates that those who accept state funds for a proposed jail must also construct a 500-bed Secure Community Reentry Facility. The County Sheriff’s Dept. has suggested building both facilities side by side, which would force the state to provide part of the county’s yearly operations costs.

At the meeting, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown spoke in support of the plan, espousing the findings of his Blue Ribbon Commission, which determined that 1,785 inmates were released early in 2007 due to overcrowding. Also in the report, which was released last week, the commission asserts that the current county jail is housing almost 200 more inmates than it has beds for.

Following the hearing, Brown said the board’s decision comes at a crucial time, as prison crowding becomes an unmanageable situation.

“I am delighted that the board took the action that they did today,” Brown said. “They did what no other board for the past twenty years has done … and have recognized an incredible need that has been overlooked.”

At the meeting, Carpinteria City Councilmember Joe Armendariz recommended that the board approve the plan. According to Armendariz, public safety hinges on the efficiency of the jail system and is of measurable importance.

“The most important thing government does is provide for the public safety,” Armendariz said. “I think that it is essential that the board move forward in a proactive manner on this issue.”

The proposed jail facility is one of six key recommendations issued by the Sheriff’s Blue Ribbon Commission on prison overcrowding, which was convened by Sheriff Brown in April 2007 to assess the continuous overcrowding of the county’s jail system and to investigate solutions to the issue. The commission also recommended an investment of $5.8 million in prevention, intervention and correction programs aimed at the root causes of county crimes.