Residents denounce new Santa Clara County jail
Some Santa Clara County residents overwhelmingly oppose a new prison, calling on the county to abandon punitive practices that criminalize poverty and mental illness.
After numerous reports of the inhumane conditions behind bars, Santa Clara County grappled with the idea of ââbuilding a new prison. But now the authorities are turning to the public for alternative solutions.
County officials on Thursday gathered insights and feedback from more than 70 residents, students, lawyers and lawmakers, such as Santa Clara County Education Board member Peter Ortiz, and Rebeca Armendariz , Gilroy board member. Many of them spoke of how the prison system tore their families apart, while some spoke of their own experiences of incarceration. The session was the latest in a series of four led by Haywood Burns Institute, an Oakland-based nonprofit.
“Our goal is to help the community reinvent the way we deliver justice that is more humane and produces true public safety,” said Manuel La Fontaine, member of the Burns Institute Social Justice and Welfare team. , in San JosÃ© Spotlight.
Analisa Ruiz, a member of the Young Women Freedom Center, said it was clear the community did not want another prison, a sentiment that was echoed throughout the event. Many advocates want the county to focus on preventing people falling into the criminal justice system.
âInstead, we need more mental health services, housing, job security, reintegration services,â Ruiz told the San JosÃ© Spotlight, âPeople are still criminalized for doing things they need to survive “.
Veronica Amador, a mother of two with mental health issues, said building a new prison would only further harm people of color and people with mental illnesses. It’s not a future she wants her children to grow up in.
âIt’s my job as a mom and a community member to support this cause,â said Amador, with her son Liam on his lap.
According to the Haywood Burns Institute, about half of county inmates and 80% of female inmates have severe mental illness.
In 2019, blacks in Santa Clara County were incarcerated 6.5 times more than whites, up from 5.5 times more in 2016. Residents of Latinx were three times more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts, according to county data.
The participants formed small groups to share ideas on the solutions they wish to see. Participants brought up ideas such as wellness centers, more counselors in schools, safety nets like universal income and a non-prison mental health center.
The Santa Clara County Oversight Board was hesitant about what to do with the vacant land in downtown San Jose where the South Main Jail was located. The county demolished the facility in the summer of 2020 with the intention of building a new prison with fewer beds and more services.
In October, then-supervisor Dave Cortese announced a plan to abandon construction of the new prison and build a mental health facility instead, with the unwavering support of advocates and organizers. The county withdrew from the plan in February, with officials divided over how to proceed. Some supervisors, including Susan Ellenberg, argued for the county to prioritize mental health needs, but supervisor Joe Simitian felt a new jail was needed.
Ellenberg proposed the community sessions in May to solicit ideas on prison reforms.
âMany came to the conversation with very strong arguments about what they thought was the best way to ensure public safety,â Ellenberg told the San JosÃ© Spotlight, âOne of the things that surprised me and impressed was that we should focus on prevention much earlier. “
Community outreach efforts also include several surveys and focus groups with those in custody at the Main Prison and Elmwood, deputy county director Martha Wapenski told San JosÃ© Spotlight.
“These commitments will be part of a larger discussion of what the council wants to do,” said Wapenski, which could include building a new prison, a new mental health facility or a hybrid of the two. .
The supervisory board will take public comments into account when drafting a master plan for the county’s prison system, Wapenski said. The plan would guide future plans on the Main Prison and Elmwood.
Feedback from the community sessions will be presented to a county public safety committee in November before being forwarded to the supervisory board on November 16.