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Supervisors Approve Jail Funding in Budget Vote

Public testimony in opposition to a new 576-bed jail lasted for more than two hours in the meeting chambers yesterday and often involved contentious comments directed at the supervisors.

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors today endured a barrage of vocal opposition during a vote to approve the $1.8 billion county budget, which included more than $44 million for the first phase of designing and constructing a new county jail.

More than 100 members of the public crowded the meeting chambers as well as an overflow area, many of them chanting "No jail" and carrying signs that read, "Cancel the jail money today," and, "No more cages. We need jobs, living wages."

Public testimony in opposition to the jail lasted for more than two hours and often involved contentious comments directed at the supervisors, some speakers warning that the county risks becoming a "pariah" in the public eye if plans to construct a new 576-bed jail in Redwood City move forward.

Most said that San Mateo County residents would be better served if the board redirected the estimated $160 million it will cost to build a new jail toward crime prevention programs, better education for the county's young people, and community services.

Self-described community activist Manuel LaFontaine, of Daly City, attended this morning's meeting to demand that the county explore alternative crime prevention methods and "cancel this jail investment."

"We can find other alternatives instead of investing in a county jail," LaFontaine said.

Occupy Redwood City organizer James Lee implored the board to look further into building facilities that can house reentry programs and rehabilitation services, not just warehouse inmates.

"You can decide to put off authorizing $44 million for a new jail," Lee said to loud applause from the anti-jail audience. "As you see here, there's a lot of opposition."

East Palo Alto resident Robert Hoover said he was continually amazed at how government continued to make decisions that do not have successful outcomes.

"We know that jails do not work," Hoover said. "It seems to me that we would better use our time and energy to get into a mode of prevention."

Other speakers suggested the board reduce the jail population by discontinuing holds on inmates for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, by offering early release from detention to low-level offenders, and by further exploring out-of-custody inmate supervision programs such as at-home detention and ankle-monitoring.

Over a din of expletives and public outcry in the meeting room, the supervisors made a case for the new jail, which is planned to include more space for treatment programs and inmate services that the current, overcrowded jail cannot accommodate.

"We are going to call it a 'facility' and not a 'jail,' because we are going to be making a change with how we actually treat people within the facility," Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson said.

Supervisor Dave Pine said it was essential that constructing the jail move forward, and that the county will simultaneously explore ways to reduce the inmate population while improving conditions for people who require incarceration.

"We have a women's facility that is absolutely deplorable," Pine said. "The fact is it needs to be replaced."

Supervisor Don Horsley — a former San Mateo County Sheriff — said that despite new investments in preventative services and reentry programs, overcrowded cells and lack of space for in-custody assistance programs make building a new jail a necessity.

"The idea that somehow you can provide treatment that would magically reduce the need for a jail is nonexistent," he said.

With a 5-0 vote, the board gave its final approval for the fiscal year 2012-2013 county budget and unanimously approved initial funding for the new jail.

About two-dozen opponents to the decision chanted "No jail" and marched through the county building, but the crowd gradually dispersed.

— Bay City News

What do you think? Would San Mateo County residents be better served if the board redirected the estimated $160 million it will cost to build a new jail toward crime prevention programs, better education for the county's young people, and community services? Tell us in the comments.

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