by Robert J. Hansen
Sacramento, CA -The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors approved the $450 million proposal to essentially expand the downtown Main Jail Thursday which it views as the only viable path to compliance with the Consent Decree.
Despite significant community opposition voiced at Wednesday’s epic all-day meeting, Supervisors voted 3-2 in favor of adding a multi-story intake center and mental health annex adjacent to the downtown facility.
Supervisors Don Nottoli and Phil Serna voted against it, both voicing concerns about the cost which Serna said, “is roughly five times our annual parks budget.”
According to the County, the annex seeks to address one component of the consent decree by creating extra space for mental health treatment.
Despite more than 80 percent of jail inmates have not been convicted of a crime, supporters of the new jail cited fears that releasing people from the jail would compromise public safety.
Opponents of a new jail or an expansion assert that most of the problematic conditions in the jail are caused by the behavior of jail staff and that what is needed is a reduction of staff-to-inmate ratios and enforcement of current policies.
Liz Blum of Decarcerate Sacramento, a coalition that aims to decrease jail populations and has led the charge in the community’s opposition to the jail expansions and previous attempts, said the County never explored ways to improve jail conditions without a major construction project.
“They never fully explored what would be possible, spatially, after major population reductions,” Blum said.
Experts who inspected Sacramento County jail facilities found unconstitutional conditions in custodial areas leading to a lawsuit filed against the County in 2019. The County settled the lawsuit and has been under the Mays Consent Decree since 2020.
Mays Consent Decree requires the County to provide constitutionally adequate care and conditions of confinement to Sacramento County jail inmates.
A recent report by the county revealed 63 percent of people in the jail have a mental health illness and receive some kind of treatment which makes the jail one of the county’s largest mental health service providers.
Tifanei Ressi-Moyer, an attorney in this case, said she met hundreds of people being abused and neglected inside the Main Jail.
“My mental health was the worst it had ever been having to reconcile the heinous power of sheriffs to torture my community and family,” Ressi-Moyer said via Twitter.
Ressi-Moyer said Sacramento County agreed with the plaintiffs to change the conditions. but the agreement is written by attorneys and “experts,” who are not in the jail and who are not in our communities.
“With this vote, I am livid about how seamlessly the system of civil rights litigation supports and encourages the expansion of a carceral system, a system born from this country’s institution of slavery. It is reprehensible, irredeemable,” Ressi-Moyer said.
Supervisor Nottoli said that Thursday’s vote was one of the most important of his career and warned that the costs will limit the county’s ability if things get bad again as he recalled cutting hundreds of jobs and slashing vital public services during the housing market crisis in 2008.
“One of the things that was recession-proof was the jail,” Nottoli said. “If we build, if we take a mortgage on to improve a very outdated facility, that mortgage will be recession-proof because we will meet our obligations. Other services for people of the county are not recession-proof, I will tell you right now.”