Fight to Stop San Mateo County Jail Heats Up

For Immediate Release—September 10, 2012

Fight to Stop San Mateo County Jail Heats Up

Residents Demand Supervisors Cut Jail Spending from Budget, Call for Hearing on Population Reduction Measures

Press Contact: Isaac Ontiveros

Californians United for a Responsible Budget, 510-517-6612

What:  Press Conference and Board of Supervisors Meeting

When:  Tuesday September 11th, 2012, 8:15am

Where:  400 County Center, Redwood City

Redwood City—This Tuesday residents from across San Mateo County are expected to pack the Board of Supervisors’ meeting, demanding the Board strike $44.2 million from the county’s 2012-2013 budget slated for a new jail, and hold a hearing on strategies to reduce the jail population.  Supervisors will vote on the final budget on September 25th.

“This budget is a plan for the future of our county.  Right now the Board is following the Sheriff’s lead in allocating more and more money on cages and less and less on the health and wellbeing of our residents,” says Manuel LaFontaine of All of Us or None, one of the organizations opposing the jail. “We are demanding that the Board make another plan: to reduce our jail population by investing in alternatives to imprisonment as well as strong re-entry programs and services that will keep people in their communities where they belong.”

Two of the county’s financial officers, the County Manager and the County Controller voiced strong concerns about the cost of the jail, as have thousands of county residents.  A 2011 report from the County Manager indicates that if the new jail is built “the magnitude of cuts necessary to re-balance the General Fund budget… would be $118 million, or 26% of Net County Cost.” The Manager’s report affirms an American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California finding that “money spent for jail construction and maintenance will inevitably require cuts in county spending on housing, education, healthcare, transit infrastructure, and other more urgently-needed services for San Mateo residents.” Widespread opposition to the jail project has steadily mounted during the county’s budget crisis as $70 million in cuts have left hundreds unemployed and thousands with reduced access to vital services.

The same report from the County Manager outlines many less expensive and more humane alternatives to imprisonment recommended by the County’s Health System, including expanding short-term residential treatment for mental illness and drug detox, expanding the number of people served through alternative sentencing, expanding the Pathways program, and expanding re-entry services.  The Health System’s recommendations would take 3-6 months to get up and running, serve 2,100 residents and cost the county $8.38 million a year.  By comparison, the new jail would not open until 2015 and will cost $160 million to build and at least $30 million a year to operate.

“The Board of Supervisors is claiming it doesn’t have any other options in the face of alternative recommendations from countless experts,” says Emily Harris, of Californians United for a Responsible Budget.  “San Mateo County is surrounded by counties that have decided not to expand their jail systems. Just this week, Contra Costa County rejected a plan to build a new jail because of widespread opposition, joining Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Francisco, and Alameda Counties.  It’s not too late to stop this jail.”

“This hits home for so many of us.  I am fighting so that my children aren’t pushed into cages. We are fighting for a change in priorities,” says LaFontaine.  “It has been poor and working communities of color that have been hit hardest by both budget cuts and imprisonment for way too long.  And people are sick and tired and are standing up and saying, ‘we want something different, we are going to stop this’.”

Tuesday morning, community organizations and residents will hold a lively press conference at 8:15am and will then pack the Supervisors’ meeting to speak during public comment at 9am.

###