The Santa Barbara County Jail system will begin accommodating several hundred former prison inmates once State Assembly Bill 109 takes effect on Oct. 1 in an effort to reduce overcrowding in state prisons.
Governor Jerry Brown approved the legislation earlier this year to transfer inmates deemed “triple nons” — those who are nonviolent, not sex offenders and committed low-severity crimes — from state prisons to their respective county justice systems. The bill aims to reduce the state recidivism rate from 67.5 percent and help “triple non” offenders reintegrate into society through early parole and probation programs including home detention and halfway house facilities.
According to Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Dept. Public Information Officer Drew Sugars, the measure will put additional pressure on the county’s currently congested jail system.
“We’re already overcrowded — that’s one of the big challenges we have here at the Sheriff’s office,” Sugars said. “Fortunately, compared to other counties, we’re doing pretty well in being prepared for this.”
The Sheriff’s Dept. expects an increase of around 25 inmates per month beginning October 1 and 300-325 new arrivals by the end of the year. The agency will reopen the Santa Maria Jail, renovate the basement in the Santa Barbara facility and expand their electronic monitoring programming for work-release inmates to prepare for the influx.
Additionally, Sugars said the restructuring will limit the number of repeat offenders clogging the county’s correctional facilities.
“A huge component of this, in order to reduce jail and prison overcrowding, is to reduce the recidivism rate,” Sugars said. “If we can reduce the number of people who get released and come back, that will solve a lot of problems.”
The state legislation provides financial support for county jail systems to employ additional staff and compensate for the increase in inmates.
Despite the additional funding, Sugars said the department has already lost 13 percent of their staff in the past four years and needs time to prepare new officers.
“When you stop and start funding, you stop the entire machinery and it can take several months to get it back,” Sugars said. “It’s going to take several years before we can look back and say, ‘Ok, here’s how it turned out.’”
Santa Barbara County 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said the jail system lacks adequate funding to maintain its various housing and rehabilitation programs.
“[The bill] is an attempt in the right direction, but its severe lack of funding does not make for a real opportunity for full success,” Carbajal said. “We know what a good program would look like and cost but we are not getting the full money for a good program to work.”
However, Santa Barbara County 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf said the county is prepared to cope with the upcoming changes.
“Let us roll up our sleeves and make this work,” Wolf said. “We did not wait until the last minute; this process and planning has been going on for months. We really are ahead of the curve here and we are ready for those folks when they come here.”