by Jae Brattain | posted 02.11.2014
In a report by the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury, members point out problems with the release system currently in place by the Sheriff’s Department. One of the main issues is when inmates are released during the night. Since the jail is far from public transportation options in terms of walking distance, it is difficult to find a ride. Deputies were not telling inmates how to find transportation either verbally or in writing.
Santa Barbara County Jail is located on a hill away from commercial businesses. At night, it could be especially problematic because Calle Real is not as well lit as many residential or business streets. With an average of 20 to 40 releases in a 24-hour period, many are released at night. The grand jury report indicates that there was approximately nine releases between the hours of 11:00 pm and 6:00 am.
The current policy mandates that if an individual is let go during late night hours, the person should be told of the option to stay on the premises until the morning. Either the individual can sit in the jail lobby area or on benches located outside. In both cases, the released inmate would not be charged with trespassing by Sheriff’s deputies. Nevertheless, there is no exact policy in place as to what is being told to a released inmate.
Another issue problematic to the situation is that the jail lobby is devoid of any real seating. Currently there are two plastic chairs attached to each other, which sits toward the left of the exit door from the detention area. There are restrooms in the lobby, as well as a drinking fountain. However, the area can best be described as spartan.
According to Custody Operations Chief Deputy Laz Salinas, the Sheriff’s Department is working on solutions to remedy the issues pointed out in the report by the grand jury. One possible answer is to have officials from Santa Barbara County Superior Court widen the time frame in which an inmate can be released. By doing so, it would help better fit public transportation schedules.
Late night releases are especially difficult for individuals that are either mentally ill or have drug and alcohol addiction. Suzanne Riordan, who is director of the organization Families ACT!, knows first hand of the problem. Her son had issues with drug addiction and said that her son was once released during the night with only his undershorts. He passed away of an overdose in 2005.
Santa Barbara Bail Bonds agents also know of the issues. The jail staff releases inmates during all hours of the night when posting a bond. Agents do not know if an individual has mental health problems or drug and alcohol addiction if they do not speak directly with the inmate. In many cases, they deal only with friends and family members who may not disclose these issues.
In some instances, jailers have the option to hold someone for 12-hours past a release date if they feel the individuals safety is in question. They can also direct someone to Crisis and Recovery Emergency Services, which is under the Santa Barbara County Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services.
One suggestion that grand jury offered was to use a program model after Orange County. It is privately funded by The Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Essentially, a motor home is stationed by volunteers from 10:00 pm to 3:00 am. Released inmates are offered hot beverages, snacks, use of a cell phone, and transportation schedules.
According to Salinas, the jail staff are working to develop something similar in Santa Barbara. It would provide a temporary safe haven to help inmates transition back into society. No word was given about the time frame of when the program might start.