Currently, the Santa Barbara jail being used is 40 percent over it’s recommend capacity level. Luckily, the State of California, through the Assembly Bill 900, has put up $56.3 million, (70 percent) for the county of Santa Barbara to construct a new jail in North County. Due to the recession, cost of construction will be hard to acquire, however, the Santa Barbara County already owns the land where they want to place the jail.
Even with overcrowding issues, other obstacles are still preventing Sheriff Brown from getting his new jail built. A $15 to $17 million annual budget is required for the operation of the jail, and while the state has already issued a generous amount, there is still $23.7 million needed to build the jail itself. In 2000, voters opposed the building of this new jail with a ballot total consisting of a two-to-one measure, under a lower proposed building cost.
This past Tuesday, Sheriff Brown proposed a fresh ballot to the Board of Supervisors that would require a one-half cent sales tax increase. Conducted in 2009, a poll issued to the people of Santa Barbara stated that 45 percent agreed that they would definitely or possibly be in favor of a ballot that would decrease overcrowding of jails. Later on, people were informed that inmates are released early due to overcrowding. Roughly 1,800 criminals a year are released, which caused a concern for public safety amongst the people, which then increased the poll from 45 percent to 59 percent. There was still a population of 9 percent who wanted more details prior to making a proper decision, but Brown’s reply to this was, “the time is now.”
Fortunately for Brown, he had a report done by a new Grand Jury and the Blue Ribbon Commission working on his side. The 10 year sales tax increase would allow enough money to cover the building cost of the 304-bed jail, and it’ll also allow for the annual cost to operate the jail. Nevertheless, this isn’t the only thing Sheriff Brown has in mind for the increase in sales tax. Not only does he plan to build a new jail, his hopes are that part of the money will also go to the prevention of crime. Brown stated, “We can best serve the public if we can prevent crimes from happening in the first place, or keep offenders from committing new crimes once they’ve been released from jail.”
At any given time, the jail’s population consists of 38 percent of gang members, 18 percent of homeless individuals, and roughly 85 percent of people with drug or alcohol abuse problems. By installing creative programs, Brown would like to offer help to offenders so they aren’t committed to an unfulfilled criminal lifestyle.
Furthermore, the new tax increase would also allow for more funding to law enforcement and fire security aid. In any case, Sheriff Brown and the board will still need to guarantee that voters will want to stand behind this tax increase along with governmental jurisdiction and community groups with influence to reach the 66-percent favorability to proceed. The increase would take effect in July 2011.