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Overcrowded Jails Force Sheriff To Create Task Force

San Jose Mercury News via YellowBrix

September 22, 2010

SANTA CRUZ – The local jail system is operating so far beyond capacity that the county plans to launch a new task force this week that’s dedicated to resolving the overcrowding.

County Jail, the main jail facility, was at 117 percent capacity Tuesday – housing 365 inmates though it’s only rated to hold 311 people – and has consistently been past its limit, according to sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jeff Marsh, who oversees the county’s four adult jail facilities.

The Sheriff’s Office, which runs all the adult jail facilities in the county, shuttered the minimum-security portion of the Rountree jail, also known as the Jail Farm, earlier this year because of budget constraints. Marsh said not having that “relief valve” has impacted populations at the jail on Water Street and the medium-security Rountree facility, but doesn’t account for the entire increase in inmates.

So it’s unclear why the jails are so full, but law enforcement leaders are worried the problem could get worse before it gets better.


Santa Cruz County's main jail facility is bursting at the seams. Photo provided by jail staff with faces blurred. (Contributed photo)

A possible change to state law could lengthen jail terms and a provision of the yet-to-be-approved state budget would mandate that all state prison inmates sentenced to three years or less behind bars serve that time at county jails.

Marsh said that scenario would “kill me.”

Already, the main jail on Water Street is maxed out. Areas designed to be day rooms have been converted to living quarters with bunk beds and “boats,” plastic sled-like beds that are placed wherever there’s open floor space, Marsh said.

“It gets really ugly at that point,” he said.

It also changes services available to inmates because the amount of staff assigned to the jail doesn’t increase with the population rise. There also is more chance of violence among inmates because there are fewer opportunities to house people separately. However, Marsh noted that – so far – they haven’t seen more assaults behind bars.

Marsh said the worst-case scenario is a state audit of the jail system that could lead to a cap on the number of inmates allowed within each facility. That could create a one person in, one person out policy.

“If this trend continues, that’s what we’ll be looking at,” Marsh said.

The Jail Overcrowding Task Force, which meets for the first time Wednesday, will be composed of law enforcement officials as well as staff from the District Attorney’s Office and Public Defenders Office, local judges and other agencies that work in the jail, such as the county’s alcohol and drug program.

The county formed a similar group six years ago when main jail population hovered around 400 inmates, Marsh said. Incarcerations declined with interventions including alternative sentencing options and, for a time, the jail was operating below capacity.

  • Photo_user_banned_big


    almost 4 years ago


    America's prison population will continue its extraordinary growth in the coming years, with more than 192,000 prisoners added by 2011. This report is the first known attempt to determine the future growth of the nation's state and federal prison systems as a whole, along with the projected cost of that growth. Its findings show that America's prison population will continue its extraordinary growth in the coming years, with more than 192,000 prisoners added by 2011. The Task Force should identify strategies for improving state probation and parole systems, to help their state make the best use of taxpayers' investments in public safety. The program options should be used by their state legislators and policy makers to advance sound sentencing and corrections policies and practices that protect public safety.

  • Uss_rhode_island_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    Totally agree Robocop33, instead of killing all TV though, just provide local broadcasting like PBS, educational stuff...

  • Img00074_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    Sorry but the slower the courts move the longer the thugs sit around the jail. You can build countless jails (not prisons) but the longer the trail takes the longer the thug sits in jail taking up space. Prisons are a different story but jails need courts to move faster.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 4 years ago

    create a task force ??? how about build more jails

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 4 years ago

    Im going to agree with Robocop33 .. Cut down cost, open the other facility, and make them sleep in tents, I had to, why shouldnt they?

  • Blade_runner_4_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    As a former California Sheriff's Correctional Officer I can tell you that one of the main contributing fators to county jail overcrowding is the housing of parole violators. I speak of parolees who were arrested for a violation of parole, but not for a new offense. The parolees usually sit in the county jail for 2 to 4 weeks before they get their parole hearing. If it is decided at the hearing that there was a violation of parole it can be another 2 to 4 weeks prior to CDCR coming to pick them up from the jail to take them back to prison.

    The reason for this is because the State prisons are overcrowded. I believe it is by California State law that there has to be a certain percentage of prison cells that remain vacant in case other cells become inoperable. The Feds have already come down on the California prison system for overcrowding.

    The bottomline is that California is stuck between a rock and a hardplace. There's no money to build more jails or prisons. There's no money to staff new jails or prisons.

    Here's my recommendations:

    1) Clean out death row. Juice those murderers, now. That will free up a few cells.

    2) Become a "Right to Carry" State. Stop being a liberal, quasi-communist state and start letting any and all law-abiding citizens to carry a handgun.

    3) Change the California laws so that a victim of crime does not have to attempt to escape before using deadly force.

    4) Institute a "Castle Doctorine" law in California.

    We don't need more jails. We need less crime. Stop forcing citizens to victims. We need more sheepdogs and less sheep.

  • 1979_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    Well, open back up the minimum security jail. You cannot just let them out because you say there is no room at the inn! Do what Sheriff Joe did, Cut back on expenses like coffee etc and just let them drink water, Sell off the recreational material and get rid of the Cable TV stations. Feed them a diet that meets the minimum standards like bologna and cheese for lunch. Allow them books, (wholesome ones), and if that doesn't bring the costs down enough, put the minimum security ones in a tent city. As has been said,, it's good enough for our troops, it is damn sure good enough for our misfits.

  • Thinker_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    Call Sheriff Joe, I'm sure he could find room to store, I mean house them...

  • P1010076_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    How about those exploding collar things?

  • Att179311_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    how about stocks out side

  • Badge__hat_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    Great idea. Let's form a committee and talk it to death. And do you really want the Public Defender's office involved in making decisions about the jail??? Not me. They would probably vote to convert it to a day spa with facials, massages, hot tub, and fancy snacks for those poor, helpless, mistreated inmates before sending them back into the community to rob and plunder some more.

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