A panel met at Embarcadero Hall on Tuesday to debate Measure S.

If passed in the Nov. 2 election, the measure will increase county sales taxes by a half-cent — from a 7.75 percent tax to an 8.25 percent tax — in order to fund construction of a 304-bed jail in Santa Maria. Four community members led the discussion, hosted by ACLU and Families ACT!

In addition, the measure calls for the institution of rehabilitation programs and increased budget allocations for local police and fire departments, in addition to heightened support for various programs and departments.

Rick Roney, chair of Sheriff’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Jail Overcrowding, said the measure will alleviate overcrowding in the county’s sole jail.

“Currently all the inmates in the county need to be transported to south county, whereas the statistics show that about half of the offenders come from north county,” Roney said.

Roney also said while the measure does call for a new prison, it also keeps parolees from committing crimes after release.

“Seven out of 10 offenders end up back in jail,” Roney said. “We need to reduce the recidivism rate. Measure S will not only make the community safe by reducing overcrowding but also provide inmates with a better environment and more funds for rehabilitation programs.”

However, professor Cedric Robinson of the UCSB Black Studies Dept. said overcrowding and the issue of repeat offenders will not be solved by building more cellblocks.

“Recidivism is inflated by repeatedly arresting the same people who came out of prison,” Robinson said. “We live in a society where we are stampeded into accepting incarceration as normal. The poor are impoverished for supporting a system that targets them and the police are rewarded for making excessive arrests. So just spending more money for prisons than rehabilitation programs is not a rational choice.”

In contrast, Mark Hamilton, an activist who supports Measure S, said the measure is a critical first step toward solving problems within the criminal system.

“We need to focus on rehabilitation, but we need to solve inhumane circumstances of the jail system first,” said Hamilton. “This measure will be a first step towards a better model for criminal justice. It is something we can do on a local level, and we can do it now.”

Nick Beeson, a former public defender, said more money should be spent on crime prevention and rehabilitation, rather than new jail facilities.

“The measure is disproportionate towards punishment,” Beeson said. “The funds must be wisely spent on preventative measures, such as alleviating income inequality and providing education.”

If passed, Measure S will take effect on July 1 of next year.