San Mateo County has already broken ground on a new, unnecessary jail here in Redwood City, but it's not too late to stop this misguided project. Why is the jail unnecessary? you may be asking. Isn't our existing jail already overcrowded? It is, but part of the problem is that 72% of our inmates have yet to be convicted of a crime. Other California counties have programs to keep track of these people without overcrowding our jails. In testimony from May 2012, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice stated that they "respectfully recommend deferring construction of new jail space until alternative pretrial release, expedited court processing and transfer, expanded probation supervision, and expanded community treatment alternatives have been fully explored." This, as well as other valid criticism from experts in the field, was ignored by the Board of Supervisors. These alternatives have not been explored. A costly new jail should be a last resort, not a substitute for effective programs.
Now, let's talk about the cost for a minute. The jail will cost $160 million to build and $44 million a year to operate. Of course, this is money that we don't have, so the Board of Supervisors is proposing a sales tax, although you might as well call it the jail tax. It's disheartening that the county can find money for a new jail, but not for services that might keep people out of jail in the first place. Most people would agree that a leading cause of crime is poverty. We need housing, healthcare, and jobs that pay living wages. Until the county starts prioritizing the needs of our poorest neighbors, we will continue to "need" more new jails.
"But won't the jail create jobs?" Not everything that creates jobs is going to be a healthy part of our community. If we built a nuclear power plant in San Mateo, that would create jobs, but it would be sensible to oppose such a dangerous project. Likewise, house fires create good construction jobs, but that doesn't mean we should go around committing arson.
Luckily, there are some easy ways to help stop the jail. One of the most important things you can do is show up to a county Board of Supervisors meeting and say a few words during public comment. They don't normally get a lot of citizen input, so your presence will really matter. Here are some important dates:
- August 25th: A community town hall meeting against the jail. It will be 1-4 pm at 1796 Bay Road, East Palo Alto. This meeting is being sponsored by a large coalition of community groups.
- August 28th: Board of Supervisors meeting at 400 County Center, Redwood City. These meetings are always at 9am, and public comment takes place at the beginning of the meeting.
- September 11th: Board of Supervisors meeting. CURB (Californians United for a Responsible Budget) will be presenting a letter, and a large citizen turnout is expected.
- September 25th: Board of Supervisors meeting in which they'll approve next year's budget, including spending for the jail.
You don't need to be an expert to speak at public comment! There are a wide variety of talking points on our website right here. If it isn't obvious by now, this is a time-sensitive issue, and every comment can make an impact. If you don't want the new jail, please come to the town hall and to a board of supervisors meeting. For a few hours of your time, you can help our county avoid making this big mistake.
Want to discuss this issue further? Please join Occupy Redwood City on Fridays, where we meet in front of Redwood City Hall at 5pm.