Measure S is a local ballot measure that allocates state funding as well as a half-percent sales tax to build a new jail facility in Santa Maria. Measure S is the last opportunity for Santa Barbara County to construct a new jail, lest it be charged with contempt of a court order received more than 20 years ago. The main jail in Santa Barbara County was originally built in 1971, with a maximum capacity of 352 inmates. Today the county jail has been expanded to house about 800 inmates, well past its expected capacity as it currently has a population of over 1,000 inmates.

[media-credit id=20177 align=”alignleft” width=”134″][/media-credit]The building of a new jail would not increase the number of people that are arrested and kept behind bars, rather it would divert those with violent offenses to a new facility as a way of reducing overcrowding issues at a given jail facility. Rather than giving in to the current prison system, the measure aims to reclaim civil rights for the current inmate population by reducing overcrowding and easing the strain during commutes of South County inmates to and from North County court appearances (over half of the inmate population has court trials set in North County). Measure S would also work to reduce recidivism and crime relapse by providing $5 million in funding for alternative programs to jail time and further increasing the number of non-violent criminals that would return to the community to gain real-world positive influence.

Furthermore, if Measure S were to be blocked, it would force an increasing number of violent offenders into the community as well as demand an increased number of cuts for other societal programs as a way to pay for the costs of repeat offenders.

With the threat of monetary sanctions on the loom, local leaders have banded together in support of Measure S. The measure would take grants from the state to fund $56 million out of the $80 million required to build the new jail facility in North County and would take $30 million in revenue every year in the form of a half-percent sales tax that would keep all of its revenue locally by spending $15 million a year in operating costs for the new facility. Five million dollars would all go toward repeat offender reduction efforts and alternatives to incarceration, $5 million would strengthen front line law enforcement and $5 million would be allocated for fire prevention. The tax would coincide with the expiration of a half-percent sales tax, which would give a net tax cut of a half-percent for the next 14 years.

The $5 million in repeat offender reduction efforts would fund Intensive Probation Supervision programs, in-custody and in-community drug/alcohol treatment as well as mental health services, gang prevention programs, truancy programs, vocational and educational training, as well as incarceration alternatives. Combined, they would save Santa Barbara County an average of $30,000 to $40,000 per person a year.

Measure S as a piecemeal approach can help progressives’ cause by minimizing the size of the new jail and allocating funding for recidivism prevention programs during the recession. Programs that we can expand later on will ensure that we never have an overcrowding issue in the county again. If you are in favor of alternatives to the current system, it is important to win small battles like this one. It has been over 24 years since the American Civil Liberties Union fought for the civil rights of inmates and we can make it possible with the passing of Measure S.

Measure S does not create a Band-aid for our problems; it is a comprehensive first-aid kit that helps us on the way to real reform. It may not cure the disease, but it can stop the bleeding.

This Nov. 2, I urge you to vote yes on Measure S.