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Protest meets approval of new jail funds

Posted: Friday, Jan 17th, 2014

Tash Nguyen from Sin Barras (right) helps guide a protest of more money being approved for state prisons Thursday in Santa Cruz. Close to $25 million is headed to the Rountree Detention Center in Watsonville. (Photos by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

SANTA CRUZ — Members of Sin Barras and Californians United for a Responsible Budget representing Santa Cruz County staged a protest Thursday to voice opposition to California’s plans to pour another $1 billion into jail construction, through Senate Bill 1022, organizers said.

About 50 people congregated at the Town Clock in Santa Cruz to wave banners and chant slogans for their cause.

On Thursday, the Board of State and Community Corrections approved conditional awards totaling $500 million to 15 counties, including Santa Cruz County, for upgrading local jails to include rehabilitative program space that meets Gov. Jerry Brown’s prison and public safety realignment goals.

Santa Cruz County will receive $24,635,000 for a new Type III 64-bed transitional housing unit with dayroom, and to remodel existing space into program and vocational space equipped with audio/visual technology and security system upgrades and reopen unused facilities at Rountree Detention Center in Watsonville.

“Santa Cruz has been forward thinking during California’s public safety realignment by prioritizing community-based programs and supportive re-entry services,” said Tash Nguyen from Sin Barras. “This expansion would be a significant step backwards. Community programs are more effective and less costly than incarceration. Month to month, it is far cheaper to provide permanent housing for the homeless than to lock them up for petty offenses.”

Sin Barras recommends alternatives such as expanding pre-trial release and funding drug and mental health treatment within the community.

The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office oversees Rountree. Deputy Ryan Kennedy said the improvement money will be a tremendous help.

“It’s a good thing because we end up dealing with a lot of people in our county that are in custody,” Kennedy said. “The improvement will help us streamline more people into programs here and make things go better and smoother to get more people out of custody. The money doesn’t necessarily mean incarcerating more people. We don’t want people returning. We will be able to create programs to help people — after all, this is a correctional facility and that is what we strive to do. This is not about putting up a whole new dungeon with bars. At this medium and minimal security facility we want to help people build the skills to stay out of here and succeed.”

The new facility would not open until at least November 2016.

“Two years is ample time to improve and expand the county’s existing Custody Alternatives Program, implement a host of sentencing reforms, and establish more options for those who cannot afford bail,” said Kati Teague of Sin Barras. “Santa Cruz is already a leader in these fields, and should continue to push for innovative responses to problems in our criminal justice system.”

Similar protests were held around the state Thursday.

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