Poll: Should We Build a New County Jail?

At an election forum Thursday, one Board of Sups candidate bucked five others, saying he'd rather have "programs, not prisons."


Can taxpayers in San Mateo County afford to ? Should they?

The question has been a hot topic in many discussions, and came up again Thursday morning in Redwood Shores when six Board of Supervisor election candidates . Five favor the plan, one does not.

The decision to build a new jail will cost taxpayers an estimated $165 million to build and $30-40 million a year to operate at a time when the county continues to battle with a struggling economy.

District 4 candidate Carlos Romero opposes moving forward. "For us to add almost $40 million (to the county's operating budget) it's almost incomprehensible," says Romero. "It's almost irresponsible. We have to back off."

According to Romero's figures, the combined impact of the debt to finance the jail, projected over 30 years, is $1.2 billion.

Says Romero, "Why wouldn't I want to hold back? Why do we need 835 beds if we could more efficiently address this issue through electronic monitoring, examining pre-trial lock-ups, by figuring out if we could use the excess capacity that may exist in San Bruno, by figuring out if we could rehabilitate some of the existing youth facilities we have since we're no longer incarcerating youth. There are other ways to address this."

His opponents for the open supervisor's seat disagree.

Ernie Schmidt: "Having a brother-in-law at that main jail, I think it's way too overcrowded. I think we need the jail. I've also visited the women's jail; that's a complete disgrace. I'm surprised we haven't been sued our pants off on that one."

Shelly Masur: "I think we need some more space that will make it possible for people to get the job training they need, the literacy training they need, get the treatment that they need so we can keep people out of jail, and by building some new facilities we can have that opportunity."

Memo Morantes: "I'm very committed to more programs to the inmates and the families of the inmates. I want to double or triple those programs and get people back to work."

Andy Cohen: "We can't do what we need to do to to serve the incarcerated people under the present arrangement. The existing facilities are woefully inadequate. If that means debt? You know we didn't make these problems, we just have to do our best to deal with them"

Kirsten Keith: "The women's jail is atrocious. It needs help, nobody should be housed there. The men's jail, it's not safe for deputies, and it's not safe for the clients. When you have that kind of situation, you are looking at liability issues, and there are all sorts of problems."

Romero feels we need to go back to what he considers a core issue. 

"We're not addressing the recitivism issue," says Romero. "We're warehousing, and we know that doesn't work."

What do you think? Should we step back, and re-channel money into programs rather than a new facility? Are we warehousing? Or is the state's realignment of the prison population, unexpectedly sending many criminals back to the county level, demanding more bed space, space that may not presently exist? Are we risking long-term liability issues given the current conditions of the county jail?

Tell us in your comments, and vote in the poll below.

John Kevranian May 26, 2012 at 02:35 PM
I like Shelly Masur's approach!
Jack Hickey May 26, 2012 at 03:30 PM
We incarcerate far too many for non-violent crimes. They could be self-supporting citizens paying taxes like the rest of us. The county should stop collaborating with the failed Federal "War on Drugs" program.
Spence May 26, 2012 at 04:29 PM
Jack has it completely right. The war on drugs is a completely failed war!
Lou Covey, The Local Motive May 26, 2012 at 04:48 PM
"Clients"? What about the inmates?
Courtney Carreras May 26, 2012 at 07:00 PM
When a society spends an increasing amount of money building prisons and a decreasing amount of money on education, its pretty obvious where we are heading - and its not a good place
John Hanson May 26, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Some prisoners have it better than a working person. 3 meals a day, tv, pool tables. And workout rooms. Time to treat them like jail birds. Maybe than they might not comitt new crimes.
Andrew Boone May 26, 2012 at 09:00 PM
John, lots of research has shown the opposite to be true. When prisoners are treated better, with quality living conditions and provided with educational programs, they are less likely to commit crimes again once released from prison.
Aaron May 26, 2012 at 09:03 PM
We should surely step back and focus our funding on programs which have been shown successful at reducing recidivism, as well as alternatives to incarceration which treat people more like patients than unwanted dregs of society. A significant percentage of people housed in our county jail suffer from mental health issues which render them incapable of functioning in society and we need new institutions to address solutions for these marginalised. We are certainly "warehousing" portions of the Jail population, especially drug users, indigent and people who suffer from more severe mental health issues like schizophrenia. As far as questions regarding the state of the Women's Facility.... In my opinion, sentencing people to serve in this facility is just like sentencing them to get hepatitis. Criminal Punishment should not include exposure to HSV/HPV/or HEP-C as a court mandate. Knowingly exposing people to Hepatitis, and HPV/HSV is flat out criminal.... a crime which should be punished by education. Even though people caught up in the criminal justice industry (service-persons, and customers both) are mostly idiots, everybody deserves dignity (why in our great country we have the 8th amendment) , and a chance to become educated and change our lives for the better.
Andrew Boone May 26, 2012 at 09:06 PM
Even if the County does build a new prison, why would we not try to find ways of keeping more people out of jail? Carlos Romero is the only candidate discussing potential solutions to the real problem here - that we send too many residents to jail. And he has far more experience than the other candidates on criminal justice issues, having lived and worked on them in East Palo Alto for the last 25 years.
Aaron May 26, 2012 at 09:23 PM
There are no workout rooms in San Mateo county Jail Facilities. Yes, there was a pool table at the la honda work farm, but you may be disappointed to learn that that facility which could provide over 200 beds for people serving sentences for minor misdemeanors and drug crimes is currently closed. Newer inmates in San Mateo County are typically locked 22 hours per day in a two man cell which is about 8ft by 6 ft. They are let out of this cell 3 or 4 times a day for 15 - 30 minute lengths. During this "Free" time, you can eat, shower, make phone calls, or watch TV. For people with longer sentences, you are housed in a 12 man tank which is about 350 sqft. There is one toilet (which is also a sink), a shower, a table (which seats 4), and a shower. It is true that there is a television in these tanks, however, the television is only on for certain hours, and if there is a show you want to watch during that time then you have to make your case as to why all 11 other inmates have to watch it too. When you have to go poo, you just do it right in front of the other people in the tank... and when other people go poo ... they just do it right in front of you. You get out of your tank for 1 hour per day (15 minute breakfast, 15 minute lunch, 30 minute dinner) Watching television all day is actually a punishment. It inflicts such opinions and ideas like the one expressed above on people.
San Mateo County Resident May 26, 2012 at 09:27 PM
Hi John, I agree that keeping people out of jail in the first place is a good approach. The problem is that that approach means asking the question who is in jail to begin with, and not being afraid of whether the answer is that some of them are dangerous and will be for a long time and others are people living with biologically based illnesses and disorders that, if treated, would have never been in jail to begin with. The Sheriff has testified that most of those in jail are awaiting trial several times in the past year, averaging around 70 percent of an average daily population of just over 1,000. The Sheriff has also testified that persons living with serious and mild mental illness make up a significant part of the pretrial and post trial population several times in the past year, averaging around 30 percent. So the real question is why the jail is being used to provide those arrestee's who could have been treated in the 22 bed unit Sequoia Hospital closed down or the 6 bed unit the County's hospital closed down last July and not being afraid to find out that the answer is the Health System's mismanagement.
San Mateo County Resident May 26, 2012 at 09:31 PM
Hi Lou, Kirsten Keith is a criminal defense attorney. http://sites.google.com/site/kirstenkeithesq/defense It is not surprising she views inmates as clients.
San Mateo County Resident May 26, 2012 at 09:43 PM
Marijuana use can trigger a psychosis in those living with mental illness who lack sufficient insight into their condition and that psychosis can lead to a double murder. http://www.insidebayarea.com/news/ci_20683901/judge-approves-release-man-committed-napa-state-hospital
San Mateo County Resident May 26, 2012 at 09:49 PM
I agree we incarcerate far too many for non-violent crimes. San Francisco's experience with writing citations for so-called quality of life crimes, however, shows that you can't write enough citations to cure those suffering from addiction or mental illness either. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/05/20/BAJ01OIV61.DTL
Aaron May 26, 2012 at 10:47 PM
Espionage technologies and military tactics are really really fun to play with. I would hate to deny our police the pleasures of war.
John Hanson May 26, 2012 at 11:42 PM
How about the good guys looking for a job? No lets reward the prisons and give them the jobs.
Sheri Miraglia May 26, 2012 at 11:43 PM
If we want fewer people in jail, we need to put every proposed $$ to fund the jail into our local schools. That is a real, long term solution.
John Hanson May 26, 2012 at 11:47 PM
I agree. Just get them to go to school.
Susan Swope May 27, 2012 at 02:19 AM
I agree with a lot of what people have said. We put too many people in jail for things for which they should be treated, rather than incarcerated. Also, many of those incarcerated have been mistreated, even abused earlier in their lives. That is the behavior they know. If we continue to treat them abusively, they don't learn any other way to behave. Andrew is correct. When people are treated with respect, they can learn there is another way and they are much less likely to recidivate. Our current jails do not have much space for programming and good programming and job training is what the clients/inmates need to learn the skills for living successfully in our community. That's why we do need a new jail and we need to tear down the women's jail. We also need to close Old McGuire. But I'm told that isn't going to happen. Because of realignment, people will be serving longer terms in the County Jail. The current facility is designed for relatively short-term "residence." There is no way I'm aware of for inmates to get sun and fresh air (each floor has a screened in porch, that's it. Being outside for a portion of each day gives us all real health benefits, physical and mental. To keep human beings inside for two or three years without any time in the sun, is not healthy. Remember, we're talking about relatively low-level criminals, not hard cases here.
Susan Swope May 27, 2012 at 02:24 AM
Are we really more interested in punishment than rehabilitation? If we are, we should be doing self-examinations. A fixation on punishment first, last and always, does not speak well for the holder of that fixation. I'm heartened that so many of our candidates are aware of the conditions in our jails and that our sheriff is correct that he needs more facilities to properly deal with the new responsibilities the state is handing him.
Spence May 27, 2012 at 02:37 AM
A very good way to make more room in jail, prison, detention or whatever, is not to incarecerate people for victimless crimes.
Susan Swope May 27, 2012 at 02:47 AM
I used to think there were victimless crimes. Not so sure anymore. What about the sex workers who are, essentially slaves--trafficked. Chef Jeff, who used to be a millionaire drug dealer (who didn't use himself), came to realize while in prison that the people he caused to become addicted, or whose addictions he fed, were his victims. What would you consider a victimless crime? Isn't someone who takes drugs he or she is offered and becomes an addict, a victim, even though complicit in his victimization? I agree we should treat, not incarcerate many drug "offenders." That would save jail and prison space and a LOT of money.
Troy May 27, 2012 at 03:54 PM
Jail is big business, at least it was. Drug courts started forming over a decade ago seeking to get drug addicts treatment instead of lock up ---- but you only get so many chances before the judge has to lock you up as the last resort. Judges will tell you that drug use isn't a victimless crime because the victim is the user....I'm not agreeing or disagreeing on that. Happy Memorial Day =)
San Mateo County Resident May 27, 2012 at 08:21 PM
The $1 million San Mateo County Community Corrections Partnership 2012 Matching Grant Program Request for Proposals was posted last Wednesday at: http://www.co.sanmateo.ca.us/Attachments/Probation/PDFs/Probation_Home/ccp_Competitive%20Matching%20Grant%20Application.pdf
San Mateo County Resident May 27, 2012 at 09:09 PM
The 12 member Board of State and Community Corrections takes over the duties of the Corrections Standards Authority as of July 1, as one of the pieces of Public Safety Realignment legislation, SB 92 reflects. http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/11-12/bill/sen/sb_0051-0100/sb_92_bill_20110630_chaptered.pdf
Andrew Boone May 27, 2012 at 09:30 PM
The cultivation, distribution, sale, and use of marijuana is a victimless crime. Its legalization and taxation would enable government agencies to much more effectively assist the very few residents who do abuse it and help balance state and local budgets at the same time. Prohibition of alcohol from 1920 - 1933 was a terrible policy, one that led to widespread abuse and mafias. We still suffer from the same misguided policy regarding marijuana today, although to a lesser degree in many states, including California, where marijuana is (thankfully) legal for medical use.
Courtney Collins June 01, 2012 at 01:01 PM
Tell your husband Chris to stop stalking me!!!
Mark June 01, 2012 at 09:41 PM
It didn't fail. The drug lords won.
Mark June 01, 2012 at 09:43 PM
Sad but true.
Susan Swope June 02, 2012 at 03:41 AM
I think you would sing a different tune if you spent a night or two in jail. Many, like you, have no clue what it's like to be locked up, and obviously harbor some major misconceptions. I have only an idea from having ministered in the SF jail. Andrew is right. When you treat people like animals, they will often behave like animals. If that is the only behavior modeled to them, it's all they know. Reinforcing that model does not change behavior. It does not give them a new model to learn and adopt.


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