By Robert J Hansen
Sacramento, CA – At yesterday’s Board of Supervisors meeting which lasted well into the night, hundreds voiced their opinion on whether to expand the Main Jail.
Those against expanding the jail say conditions in the jail would not be improved with an expansion and the money should be spent on mental health and re-entry services. Supporters of expanding the jail voiced concerns that a thousand felons would be released without it.
The Sacramento Sheriff’s Office released a statement on Facebook implying without a new jail a thousand felons would be released.
Disability Rights California (DRC) and its co-counsel spearheaded what became a class action lawsuit against Sacramento County, securing a detailed federal court Consent Decree to address the deficient and dangerous conditions in the Jail facilities.
DRC urged Sacramento County to follow through on and comply with its commitments and obligations to substantially reduce its Jail system capacity and to support and fund alternatives to incarceration, including through the expansion of community-based services and health centers for people with mental health and other disabilities.
“People do better when they receive the services that they need in the community, not in a jail,” DRC said in a letter to the Board.
Sheriff-elect Jim Cooper gave a presentation claiming that compliance with the Consent Decree requires expanding the jail.
“Even with population reduction, the Main Jail cannot structurally achieve substantial compliance with the Consent Decree,” Cooper said. “We support a new or expanded facility as County staff has recommended.
I do not support releasing dangerous people.”
The ACLU of Northern California wrote a letter to the Board stating Sacramento County has an opportunity to rethink its approach to criminal justice for people with mental illness and to fully invest in treatment and diversion programs that will reduce recidivism and costs while improving mental health outcomes.
“We applaud the Board of Supervisors’ concern about those currently housed in the jail, but the large-scale incarceration of people with mental illness has been a failure—it is expensive, inhumane, and does not improve public safety,” the ACLU wrote.
One thing the community seemed to agree on was that more needed to be done to improve access to mental health services in the County.
Sacramento resident Tim McMahon submitted a letter to the board in support of the jail expansion.
“To not build a new facility and instead release up to 1,000 felons into our community would be a disaster and would add to the failed policies in which too many people who should be institutionalized are left to roam our streets and victimize innocent people,” McMahon said.
Several letters from residents voiced similar sentiments about the potential for increased crime without a new or expanded jail.
The Sacramento NAACP President Betty Willams wrote a letter in opposition to the jail expansion.
Williams said the Sacramento NAACP opposes any new growth or expansion in the local carceral system and does not support the new jail facility proposal. The NAACP does support care, basic needs, rehabilitative and restorative alternatives, according to the letter.
“Revisiting a carceral rebuilding effort is disturbing,” Williams’ letter said.
District one resident and licensed psychologist Sarvenaz Sepehri urged the county to invest in appropriate levels of treatment in the community and fortify a comprehensive continuum of care so that residents do not have to wait until they are in crisis in order to receive their mental health condition needs.
“Our country’s jails and prisons have become de-facto mental health providers, at great cost to the well-being of people with mental health conditions. People with mental illness often face challenges in navigating life in a jail or prison.
The Board did not vote on the issue, leaving it yet to be decided.