Friday, September 19, 2008

Open letter to Sheriff Bill Brown

Dear Sheriff Brown:

Apart from my concern that more jail space leads to stiffer penalties for petty crime, I congratulate you for getting the job done in terms of securing a $56.3 million grant to construct a new North County Jail. You are keeping your campaign promise, and are doing well to eventually reduce the health and safety hazards presented by having too few beds for the current inmate population at the Santa Barbara County Jail in Goleta.

I will remind you that part of the County Booard of Supervisors' willingness to approve of your plan was based upon your representations that there would be money spent on social programs to address substance abuse and mental illness, the two biggest factors leading to incarceration.

Although it was never promised as part of the plan, I strongly believe that the County of Santa Barbara should install a sobering center in Isla Vista pursuant to Penal Code section 647(g). It is clearly the State's policy to civilly commit individuals who are found to be unsafely inebriated in public, and not to criminalize them. Isla Vista, which claims a huge share of all public intoxication arrests, needs to afford law enforcement the option of a civil commitment. Until that happens, I would urge your agency to follow the spirit of the law (647(g)), by releasing those who are brought to the County Jail on a lone charge of public intoxication pursuant to Penal Code section 849(b), which means that they will not face prosecution. This, in effect, makes the commitment civil, rather than criminal.

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