Santa Barbara Jail Facts
An Investigative Website
Research by Russell Trenholme and Others


The primary purpose of this website is to provide links to the sources of the data cited on the flyer that was distributed in April. The flyer was heavy on facts, and skeptics will want to verify them. The site also provides access to various key documents including analyses of various aspects of the jail project.

Santa Barbara County has a great diversity of residents, ranging from recent immigrants, often very poor, very wealthy persons with second (or third) homes in the area, well-to-do retirees, and residents of the North County steeped in the traditions of rural California. The question of whether the County should invest heavily in building a second jail was twice put to us by our well-financed local pro-jail lobby, first in 2000 and again in 2010 (our Supervisors even approved a $40,000 survey to see what the chances of gaining approval were). Since the measures were carefully constructed to inflict minimum pain on taxpayers (in 2010, a widely-circulated photo showed our Sheriff holding out a penny cut in half), it is clear that the real purpose was not to get us to pay for the jail, a clearly impossible task, but to gain the appearance of public support for what was, in reality, an attempt to go after a chuck of the billions of dollars authorized for jail construction by our legislators under the influence of CCPOA, the notorious (and notoriously generous) prison guard union.  
However, both in 2000 and again in 2010 our highly diversified electorate rejected the idea of a new jail by over 61% despite well-funded campaigns in its favor. The powerful and connected local pro-jail lobby is a diverse coalition of party officials loyal to elected state leaders who have a tight relationship with CCPOA, and others who stand to profit from an enormous North County construction project. Yet the jail is invariably presented to us in humanitarian terms: overcrowding has been a problem for over thirty years; it's a disgrace that our Sheriffs have been under court orders to release prisoners year after year; numerous Grand Juries and a Blue Ribbon Commission all agree that building a new jail is an urgent necessity; we clearly need much more jail space. It is even suggested that those opposed to the jail are selfish and insensitive to the humanitarian needs of the prisoners.

Supplementing this hypocritical "appeal to conscience" are the hard-line law-and-order forces concentrated in the DA's office and elements of law enforcement. Led by our Sheriff (who is also adept at articulating the "humanitarian" line) we are told that early releases "compromise the integrity of the criminal justice system" and "send the wrong message to the criminal element;" that dangerous criminals are being released into our communities;  that "own recognizance" pretrial releases of those charged with misdemeanors demonstrate that we are "rapidly approaching losing the deterrent option to impose incarceration as a consequence of misdemeanor offenses." In short, what the courts have ordered the Sheriff to do is not only morally wrong but endangers the community.

Behind all of this propagandizing is a mix of party loyalty (in the case of Democrats) and personal gain, some obvious, some hidden. Obvious beneficiaries are the Sheriff who has become a rising star of the state jail-and-prison lobby with his constant trips in quest of personal influence and state jail money. He has befriended the top echelons of the political elite of the jail-and-prison lobby and has brought back $80 million in state handouts for jail construction. He is the envy of other Sheriffs who lack his extravagant travel time and expense account, and especially his gift of gab.   

His partner in the jail enterprise, Rosser International, is the jail-building and design company out of Atlanta that has been given millions by the County since the mid-1990s to do self-serving "needs" studies that first told us that we needed an 808-bed new jail ("readily expandable 1520") that Rosser was paid millions to design; when that didn't fly, Rosser was paid to do new needs studies (completely incompetent, as described in the analysis available at the beginning of this page).  Rosser and the Sheriff finally settled on a 376-bed jail which Rosser has now been selected to design for many millions more. Rosser's self-serving and incompetent needs analyses have been investigated before, notably in Alameda County. An investigative report by a consortium of non-profits concerned about Rosser's work is also discussed in the analysis found at in the list of references below.
Behind the entire enterprise is the jail-and-prison lobby, centered on the powerful and wealthy prison guards union, CCPOA, which funds dozens of influential politicians from both parties. Other core members are Sheriffs, DAs, prison and jail building companies, construction unions, and local developers. The lobby wants more jails and opposes bipartisan reforms such as doing away with three strikes laws; early releases into community-based programs to treat mental illness and substance abuse to lower our very high recidivism rates among alcoholics, drug abusers, and the mentally ill; pretrial releases in interest of justice, family unification; and perhaps most of all, seek to vastly reduce the cost to taxpayers of law enforcement.

It is extremely difficult to discover the motivation of many of the individual supporters of the new jail, others may have personally benefited or stand to benefit in the future. Others may truly believe that we need a new jail for humanitarian reasons. In the case of our state prisons, concern over inhumane conditions is completely valid.  California was ordered to release tens of thousands of prisoners by the U.S. Supreme Court because of acute and inhumane conditions arising from overcrowding. Descriptions of hundreds of prisoners squeezed into rooms with scarcely space to walk and similar horrors made the case. But here is the difference: the prisoners in state prison are all serving sentences for felony offenses. The ultimate humane remedy for state prison overcrowding is legal: a change in laws that send non-violent persons to prison for years for minor drug offenses (elevated into serious felonies in the 1990s); doing away with long mandatory sentences; and reinstating a reformed version of the parole system. Building more prisons is neither humane nor a rational use of resources. Only hard-core members of the jail-and-prison lobby would advocate building more prisons in California.

Jails are quite different. Most prisoners in California jails are locked up awaiting trial, and Santa Barbara County is among the worst due to extremely punitive prosecutors who send far more persons to jail and prison for minor drug offenses than other counties. (This is discussed in a section on this website.) The punitive prosecutors have a kindred spirit in our Sheriff who strongly supports pretrial incarceration (which he views as appropriate punishment for being arrested--so much for that "innocent until proven guilty" nonsense).  Even one or two days in jail can cause an accused but not convicted person loss of employment; incarcerated single parents can even lose custody of their children. Do those who say we need a new jail for "humanitarian reasons" support the Sheriff's goal of locking up many more pretrial defendants, thereby vastly enhancing the suffering and negative social consequences of incarceration? And, as the flyer demonstrates, costing us tens of millions in the process? Do they realize that the new jail has nothing to do with an increasing need for jail space, that in fact, the need has dropped in half since the mid-nineteen nineties? 

Early release of sentenced prisoners gets a lot more attention from the law-and-order faction of supporters of the new jail. The bipartisan consensus in the decade from 1985 to 1995 was that drug dealers and violent criminals had to be locked up for a long time and that the traditional parole system that saw prisoners serving, on average, only one-third of their time behind bars was dangerous. Every paroled prisoner was a potential Willy Horton and no politician wanted to be "hortenized" like Michael Dukakis was. The jail-and-prison lobby seized on populist emotional support for getting tough on criminals to create a novel doctrine: that it was wrong--even immoral--to release prisoners before they had served "their time," that is, their full sentences. Judges were deprived of the discretion to take account of the full circumstances of a case. Instead, power passed to prosecutors who exacted plea bargains that carried previously unheard of long mandatory sentences. Pretrial incarceration facilitated the process since the onerous conditions in our county jails enabled prosecutors to exact harsh plea bargains from pretrial prisoners who feared languishing months in jail awaiting a trial at which even harsher charges would be sought. Those who could not afford quality defense attorneys became easy targets. The end result: big profits and great power for the jail-and-prison lobby; broken families and impoverished communities left behind by those incarcerated for non-violent drug crimes; draining of funds from crime prevention and treatment programs that reduce recidivism; long prison terms that made reentry into honest society close to impossible; an enormous tax burden on all of us; and the corruption of politicians who became dependent on generous contributions and gifts from CCPOA and jail and prison building companies.

In Santa Barbara County, what may have appeared to make sense in 1995 after several years of record crime rates, ceased to make any sense at all after the turn of the century as crime rates declined and the population of sentenced offenders began its steady fall. However the campaign for a new jail began with the hiring of Rosser in 1995, it was converted into a type of confidence game in recent years. It is difficult to separate the "grifters" from the "marks" and the merely gullible; the rest of us are indirect victims who will suffer the long-term consequences of a pillaged County budget.

What They Tell Me

"Russell, it's a done deal. You're wasting your time."

"We're against the jail too, but _____ told me it's going to be built. We just want to make sure local construction workers get jobs." 

"We want mental health facilities, but the Supervisors said forget opposing the jail. It's a done deal. It's got to be both not instead of."

"It's great economically for the North County."

"It's too late." 

"The only way this jail will be stopped is if Bill Brown is defeated. But he won't be. Look at the support he's got from political leaders."

Note on the Investigative Work

Although the data in the flyer is almost all available online, I did receive some guidance from others both within and without County Government. Although I disagree with many of the decisions made by our County officials with respect to the twenty-year effort to build a new jail, I would like think that most were were acting in good faith (they are the "marks" not the "grifters"). Unfortunately, our County Supervisors lack any truly independent research staff to aid them in evaluating data and arguments presented to them by the Sheriff and Rosser. They have failed to recognize that the Sheriff may have very different ideas as to what constitutes justice and the value of cost-effective alternatives to incarceration. The 1990s mindset that building more and more jails and prisons is the appropriate response to crime is now viewed as a tragic mistake by the vast majority of independent observers. Why our Supervisors, who should know better, march in lockstep behind our Sheriff under the tattered banner of the antiquated "More Jails, Damn the Cost" dogma of the 1990s remains a mystery.  In any event, I sincerely hope that the facts brought out in the flyer will help in pulling back the veil that for so many years has hidden the destructive and perhaps corrupt campaign for a new jail from public view. 
The Independent has a tremendous responsibility to the community following the loss of credibility of the News Press due to Wendy McCall's meddling into the paper's reporting. One expects that a credible newspaper that is truly independent would get facts about a matter so crucial to the County's future right or, when the alleged facts are in dispute, would conduct an in-depth investigation that presents evidence on both sides. 

This website investigates the arguments for both new jails offered by our Sheriff in his role the de facto spokesperson for the local pro-incarceration lobby. It also explores the economic consequences of taking the bait offered by the state's "handouts."

The Sheriff’s Case for a New Jail

From the Sheriff’s April 15, 2014 presentation to the Board of Supervisors: 

Site Menu
County Budgets may be found here:

The County's New Jail Page is found here:

Various articles on Attorney General Holder's position on reforming the penal system may be found widely on the internet. For example: 

The discussion of reforms on the Justice Policy Institute website is very good

The position of conservative Republicans on pretrial incarceration and other prison reform issues has been reported widely on the internet. For example,

The position of individual conservative Republicans on pretrial incarceration and other prison reform issues may also be found on the internet. For example, 

​Rand Paul:

​Newt Gingrich:

Rick Perry:

Richard Viguerie:

Support for prison and jail reform is bipartisan: (an unlikely alliance of Utah Republican Mike Lee, Illinois Democrat Dick Durban, Texas Republican John Cornyn, and Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy)

Discussions of the California jail-and-prison lobby centered on CCPOA is found at and

The onerous conditions of incarceration resulting from outsourcing of medical and phone services may be found here:​
Corizon Health:

​Phone Services:

Postcard Only Policy:
Links to Documents and Source Material
(If a link doesn't work, copy and paste it into your browser window)

The current state of the jail project is indicated on the County's website at
and the Supervisors' item 13-00760:|Text|&Search=13-00760|Text|&Search=13-00760
and 14-00296:|Text|&Search=14-00296

The lifetime cost of the jail may be estimated in many ways. For simplicity, I rely on the report from the Public Policy Institute of California at

Quotations by the Sheriff are taken from his 2012 Proposal for State Funding:
Click here to see it

Background on Rosser and its 2010 Needs Assessment Update 
Click here to see it 

Rosser's 2013 Needs Update
Click here to see it

Analysis of Effects of the Realignment on Jail Needs
Click here to see it

2005 New Jail Study
Click here to see it

The Blue Ribbon Commission Final Report may be opened here:
Click here to see it

The County's 2011 Realignment Implementation Plan 
Click here to see it

The County's 2013 Realignment Implementation Plan
Click here to see it

The investigation of inflated projections and a conflict of interest by Rosser in Alameda County may be opened here:
Click here to see it

The graph shown above and in the flyer was generated by Excel from a spreadsheet and annotated with spreadsheet data. The data in the spreadsheet was compiled in Excel from monthly data reported to the State Board of State and Community Corrections and available in the form of downloadable spreadsheets from their website at

Crimes rates may be found on the FBI website at and at the California Department of Justice website

Other data used in the spreadsheets came from another part of the BSCC website:

The Sheriff's Department Annual Reports (2007-2012) supplied some data used in the graphs:

​For convenience, the following have been cut-and-pasted from annual reports of the Sheriff's Department which exist for the years 2007-2012. This data is not generally available from the BSCC website.
Notes: 1. a more refined analysis found on the Pretrial Detention page places the total at almost $129 million. 2. The first graph shown above shows data for the first nine months of 2013, rather than the first six months.

4. The new jail is to be paid for by $20 million of County money, with state taxpayers responsible for $80 million more financed by costly "lease revenue bonds" that will double the cost through high underwriting fees and interest rates. This is the worst sort of irresponsible government spending. The state- wide campaign to build unneeded new jails at taxpayer expense is the result of the influence of the self-serving jail-and-prison lobby composed of the powerful state prison guards union, CCPOA (California Correctional Peace Officers Association), the California Sheriff's Association, punitive DAs, prison and jail builders and designers (like Rosser International), private prison companies, a bloated incarceration bureaucracy, and, not least, numerous politicians supported directly and indirectly by contributions from CCPOA and others who profit from building new jails and prisons. This out-of-control incarceration lobby threatens the future financial integrity of the state--and of Santa Barbara County. (more information is on the New Jail Cost page.)

5. A go-to company for phony and inflated future jail space "needs assessments" is Rosser International, a Georgia jail-and-prison design corporation which has a history of distorted, incompetent, and self-serving needs assessments used to persuade supervisors here and elsewhere to fund unnecessary detention facilities: Rosser has been paid millions by Santa Barbara County taxpayers to do jail studies and needs assessments as propaganda for the new jail campaign since the mid-nineteen nineties. Rosser was hired in Alameda County to do a similar needs assessment that resulted in plans to build a vastly oversized 540-bed juvenile hall. An independent investigation exposed Rosser's incompetent work and the conflict of interest involved--Rosser was given a multi-million dollar contract to design the enormous juvenile hall it said the county needed. 

The quality of Rosser's work in Santa Barbara County is even worse, marked by gross errors as well as ridiculous assumptions that vastly inflate our alleged future need for jail space. Rosser has not only been paid millions by us over the past 20 years for this propaganda, but now, in an obvious conflict of interest, it has been awarded a $5.5 million dollar contract to design the unnecessary new jail (now jails) it has been providing propaganda for. (For more, go to the Rosser International page.) 

6. The Sheriff has misled us as to the cost of operating the new jail by low-balling the cost, mainly through using a 3% annual inflation rate instead of the actual historical growth rate for custodial operations which is between 4.9% and 5.7% (according to the starting year).  This is discussed in detail on the New Jail Cost page. The expanded jail system's operating costs will suck money from all other County programs and may force future Supervisors to turn to oil leases and coastal development to pay the out-of-control operating costs of the new jail(s). Many counties with real jail overcrowding issues are not building new jails, but rather are reforming their pretrial detention procedures to release more arrestees, and also are releasing more sentenced prisoners early into community custody where they will participate in effective drug, alcohol, and mental illness treatment programs to significantly reduce recidivism. 

The Sheriff talks the talk of community treatment programs, but he plans on placing them inside a second new jail (the "STAR" jail) consisting of 228 beds added to the 376 already approved. The local pro-incarceration lobby supports him in this costly alternative to releasing prisoners to participate in far more effective and less costly community treatment and training programs. 

7. What Will the New Jail Really Cost to Operate? The analysis found on the New Jail Cost page uses a low-end historical rate of increase of local custodial operations of 5% per year versus the Sheriff's totally unrealistic 3% a year. This yields an estimate of the operating cost of the 376 new jail of $36.3 million by 2025 versus the Sheriff's cost projection of just $19.5 million. But the right way to estimate future costs is to look at the totality of custodial costs as the new jail (or jails, if we include the 228-bed STAR jail) forms only one component of the multi-jail complex the Sheriff is seeking. Rosser International projects a need for 1,309 beds in 2018. This would cost, using current per-bed costs projected forward at the historic 5% rate to fiscal 2025-26, a staggering $126.4 million that year, with increases at the 4.9% rate each subsequent year. (For more, visit the New Jail Cost page.)

8. How Will the County Pay Those Staggering Operating Costs?
County programs will be gutted: public safety, including crime control and prevention, fire and disaster protection; water conservation and future desalination plants; road maintenance; parks; recreation; health services—you name it. It’s very expensive to lock hundreds more pretrial defendants up and stop early releases. The taxpayers twice rejected, by overwhelming margins, even a very small tax increase to pay for a new jail. So where will the money come from? The 2005 New Jail Study discussed "Sale of County Property" and "Oil Development." Now we have oil companies eager to pay substantial fees to begin fracking, and potential revenue from massive coastal development. But will it be enough? Or is bankruptcy in our future? The Sheriff, and his local jail-lobby supporters won't be around then to take the blame. ​ (For more, visit the New Jail Cost page)

9. What About the Run-down Condition of the Existing Jail? 
Why hasn’t the Sheriff maintained and upgraded it? Despite his false claims that the jail is falling apart, many repairs and upgrades have been made. Not enough to remove all the deterioration that makes the jail serve as an emotional argument for a new jail, but whatever repairs are needed to keep it safely functioning and in compliance with state standards. The Sheriff has to upgrade the jail in the future because he needs its cells to add to those of the new jail (and even then he thinks we don't have enough to lock up all those he thinks should be locked up.  

A run-down and overcrowded jail creates emotional support for a new jail. Those concerned for the welfare of prisoners should note, however, that the main source of prisoner discontent isn’t overcrowding but hunger from outsourcing meals to a low-end provider, Aramak Custodial Services, inadequate medical care from outsourcing services to scandal-ridden PHS (renamed Corizon), outsourcing phone services to a company that gouges families with $4 a minute local collect calls, and finally, the jail's own insensitive “post-card only” policy. Mistreated prisoners can be dangerous prisoners. Understaffing by the Sheriff has only made the situation worse. (See the links listed below for more on these outsourced services.) 

10. The Realignment has been used as another propaganda tool to falsely push the need for a new jail. The Criminal Justice Realignment (AB109) was intended to relieve state prison over- crowding; counties are to keep “non-serious, non-violent, non-sex offender” (NX3) felons under county supervision rather than sending them to state prison, and are to receive similar low level felons on parole or probation for community supervision. 

Yet the Sheriff has played on an irrational fear that "felons" now being released into the community due to alleged jail overcrowding as a further means of building support for the new jail. In fact, most of these "dangerous" felons were convicted of minor drug charges; most of the others of simple theft (27%) driving offenses (10%); only 6% of weapons charges, 13% of assault charges (often simple drunken fighting), and less than 3% of any kind of sex offense. These are not murderers, rapists, and other violent criminals who remain under state control. The national drug reform movement would decriminalize many of the offenses these persons were convicted of.  

Nor does the modest increase in sentenced prisoners serving time in the County Jail come close to justifying construction of additional rated jail capacity" a careful study of the latest data on the effects of the Realignment demonstrates that it in no way supports the need for a jail system with a Rated Capacity higher than our current RC of 816. The added incarcerated sentenced prisoner load, at full implementation, according to the analysis in the study linked to below is in the range of 54 to 80, bringing the total in-jail ADP of sentenced prisoners back to about 290--about equal to the 287 of 2009 and well below all earlier sentenced ADP figures. The total incarcerated ADP, given that the pretrial level were at 45%, would be less than 530 hundreds below the rated capacity of the jail system. The study also shows that recent data indicates that none of the pretrial prisoners found to be qualified for release were actually released.   

Follow this link to a study of the Realignment's effects on the jail ADP.

This website provides rapid access many detailed investigative reports and source documents.

Here are a few of the available investigative reports:

Quote from the Alameda County Investigation of Rosser: "These drastic expansion plans are based largely on a fatally flawed and thoroughly unreliable Needs Assessment and Master Plan report, prepared by Rosser International, an an international prison architecture firm. This report relies on incorrect data that purports to show County Probation Department statistics actually show that these figures declined over that period of time. Rosser also used questionable methodology in turning its flawed data into projections for future needs, methodology that can grossly overestimate the future need for detention space. Finally, all of this unreliable work was done by a potentially interested party. As an international prison design and construction firm, Rosser, International is in prime position to bid on the contracts generated by this project. Indeed, it has already received a contract to do architectural design work for the expanded facility."

The situation here is far worse: inflated jail needs projections with elementary calculating errors were created by Rosser and used by the Sheriff to sell us an unaffordable and unneeded new jail.        Click here to go to the Rosser International page

"Free" money from state taxpayers--courtesy of CCPOA, the powerful prison guards union, and their politician clients. Supposedly we will pay $20 million and "they" (State Taxpayers--that's us) will pay $80 million financed by "lease revenue bonds" designed to avoid voter approval (bonds that end up costing taxpayers twice as much due to high underwriting fees and interest rates). 
Click her to go to the New Jail Cost page  

How the Sheriff Manipulated and Misled Supposedly Independent Bodies Investigating the Need for a New Jail
Twice voters rejected taxes for a new jail by more than 61%, but the manipulation of supposedly independent Grand Juries and Commissions provided the prison-jail lobby with cover to move ahead with their costly and unpopular new jail project.
Click here for a report on the confusions and errors in the County's 
2005 New Jail Study, Blue Ribbon Commission Report 
and Grand Jury Reports

Click here to skip to a discussion of background and methodology

3. Under Sheriff Bill Brown the ballooning incarceration of pretrial defendants has cost us over $125 million in unnecessary expenditures. Not only is the excessive level of pretrial incarceration detention unnecessary, it has cost County taxpayers in excess of $125 million over Bill Brown's tenure as Sheriff. This will increase substantially with the construction of a new jail since Sheriff Brown wants even those charged with petty misdemeanors locked up pretrial. In fact, one of his arguments for building a new jail is that it will provide enough beds to enable him to stop giving early releases to sentenced prisoners and to lock up those arrestees now being citation-released. In the case of citation-releases, at the present rate of $132.02 per diem, that would add over $7 million annually to our already high custodial costs (see full discussion on the Pretrial Detention page). Since historically custodial costs have grown at at 4.9% to 5.7% per year (depending on the starting starting year), these added prisooners will cost us much more once the new jail opens in 2018.  

The graph below shows how much the total daily jail population would have been reduced during Bill Brown's years as Sheriff if the ADP of pretrial defendants had been maintained at the average 1995-1998 level of 45%. All those extra jail days--over one million of them since Bill Brown was elected Sheriff--at the current rate of $132.02 per day yield a total in excess of $135 million, money that comes straight out of the County's general fund. (More information is found on the Pretrial Detention page.)
The Sheriff has claimed that the actual ADP numbers are misleading because he has been forced by court orders to release many sentenced prisoners early. There are two responses: first, the years 2007-2012 for which we have data on early releases show an average early release ADP of 69, well below the amount required to push the ADPs shown in the last graph up into overcrowding territory; second and more important, the incarceration reform movement discussed below emphasizes the importance of early releases into community programs to reduce the recidivism rate. 

The U.S. Attorney General has stated that "Almost all of these [pretrial] individuals could be released and supervised in their own communities." He is not alone, as throughout the nation there is a bipartisan movement working to reduce both jail and prison populations through community-based alternatives. In the case of jail populations, the primary means of reducing the ADP is to greatly increase own-recognizance (OR) releases, with community supervision as required, and reducing or eliminating commercial bail (which has happened in many states). Implementation of these reforms (which are encouraged by experts on the Realignment) would substantially increase the number of pretrial defendants released early thereby further lowering the jail's total ADP. In fact, documents on the American Bar Association website (discussed on the Pretrial Detention and Background & Solutions webpages) discuss pretrial detention policies implemented elsewhere that have reduced the average daily population of incarcerated pretrial defendants as a percentage of the total to 20% or less.  

Although the movement envisions an incarceration ADP for pretrial detainees far lower than the 45% shown above, I have focused on this percentage because it actually existed here during the peak of the "get tough on crime" era and would require no fundamental changes in our local system to reinstate. 

Attorney General Holder has received strong support for his reform program not only from Democrats but from conservative Republicans such as Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and Richard Viguerie. This is the essence of the case against building an extremely expensive new jail (or jails, as the Sheriff would have it): although the existing jail needs extensive remodeling, it is more than adequate to serve the reduced prisoner load that would result from returning to historic relative levels of pretrial incarceration.

However, if the County chose to implement the kinds of pretrial reforms being implemented elsewhere, much of the jail could be converted to other uses. The principal impediment to taking these steps is the sheer power and wealth of the incarceration lobby centered on the prison guard's union, CCPOA, and the many politicians from the Governor down who are supported by CCPOA's corrupting political donations; second, there is the very large state incarceration bureaucracy; third, the State Sheriffs' Association; fourth, the state's DAs whose power over arrestees is enhanced when defendants are incarcerated pretrial; a variety of companies that make money from designing, building and supplying prisons and jails; private prison companies; and various trade unions that participate in the construction of new jails and prisons. 

Here, briefly are some of the basic facts every voter and taxpayer in Santa Barbara County should know. 


1. Despite what you've been told, we don't need a new jail.   The existing jail would be more than large enough if it wasn't being filled with increasing numbers of defendants incarcerated before trial. More than 70% of the jail's Average Daily Population (ADP) consists of pretrial defendants. This is well above the percentage held in other counties and much higher than the percentage (45%) in our jail during the high crime years of the mid-nineteen nineties. From 1996, the first full year of available statistics from the State Board of State and Community Corrections, (BSCC) until 2010, the last year before the Realignment, Santa Barbara's pretrial ADP increased by 69% versus a statewide increase of only 20%. This staggering increase in the percentage of pretrial defendants incarcerated maintained overcrowding when the number of sentenced prisoners in the jail began to decline sharply in 1999. The policy of incarcerating increasing numbers of pretrial defendants to maintain overcrowding is the result of policies set by the local pro- incarceration lobby composed of prosecutors, the Sheriff's Department, and politicians under the sway of the powerful state jail-prison lobby centered around the prison guards union CCPOA (the state's largest political contributor). ​(See the page SBC Criminal Justice for more details.) Overcrowding is used by the incarceration lobby as its strongest argument for a large new jail. 

Local courts have given the Sheriff enormous discretion in reducing the jail population in response to lawsuits filed in the 1980s alleging overcrowding. He has been encouraged to provide citation-releases to those arrested for misdemeanors and many thousands of such persons are given citation-releases each year a common practice throughout the state). By decreasing the number released through spurious "safety criteria" or other dubious justifications, it has been possible for him to progressively increase the ADP of incarcerated pretrial defendants: result, a jail remains overcrowded despite declining crime rates, arrests, bookings, and number of prisoners serving sentences. 

There once was a serious and genuine overcrowding problem, and if crime rates had continued to escalate as they did in the early 1990s, either a new jail or radical changes in the criminal justice system would have been necessary. However, with the decline in crime rates and arrests since 2000, there should have been a complete re-evaluation of previous plans for jail expansion. Instead, the local pro-incarceration lobby has successfully obscured the truth, fostering the illusion of a continuing crisis largely through the manipulation of the number of arestees granted citation-release (release on one's own recognizance) and ignoring alternative forms of community-controlled custody. This means of increasing the jail's ADP is supplemented by manipulating the level of early releases of sentenced prisoners, another power handed to the Sheriff by the courts. Artificially induced overcrowding became the keystone of the lobby's highly successful disinformation campaign that will eventually destroy the County's budget if the jail is built.

Nor is the problem that our jail's Rated Capacity (RC) is low by state standards. Although our crime rates are well below the state average and below that of most neighboring counties, the current Rated Capacity of our jail per 100,000 of population is substantially larger that the Rated Capacities of most other counties.
The modest rise in the black bars for 2011, 2012, and 2013 represent the increased number of sentenced prisoners in jail due to the Realignment which began in the fourth quarter of 2011 and is now approaching steady-state as shown by the slight decrease from 2012 to 2013. 

The blue line in the previous graph indicates what the total ADP would have been had the pretrial percent remained at the 45% level seen in the 1995-1998 period.
The essence of the Sheriff's argument is that the existing jail is overcrowded, that it cannot accommodate 1,000 prisoners, and that it will be even more overcrowded as a result of the Realignment. The lawsuits and reports referred to, most of which date from years past, address overcrowding, either based on recorded statistics or projections produced by Rosser International.

The following graph shows that the jail has been filled beyond its rated capacity (currently 816) since 1995, the first year for which the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) publishes data. The numbers on the left are the ADP, or average daily population (prisoner count) during the year.
Why is Santa Barbara County 
Still Living in the 1990s?

Like something out of a science-fiction film, Santa Barbara County is reliving the 1990s when CCPOA lobbyist-president Don Novey stalked the halls of the State Capitol intimidating legislators reluctant to build yet another prison. In most of the nation, those times are long past. The ruinous economic consequences of building more jails and prisons has moved conservatives in Texas (notably Rick Perry), in Mississippi, in North Carolina, and in Georgia to stop building jails and prisons (even closing some), to reform pretrial detention, to oppose long sentences, and to adopt incarceration reform packages. Eric Holder, the U.S. Attorney General, and the American Bar Association have taken strong stands in favor of freeing most arrestees pretrial, decriminalizing non-violent drug offenses, and vastly reducing long sentences. 

This bipartisan effort to reform the criminal justice system, including the overreliance on incarceration, has bypassed Santa Barbara County where the pro-incarceration lobby reigns supreme, with the support of almost all elected officials, Republican and Democrat, of all newspapers and other media from the conservative Santa Barbara News Press to the "mildly liberal" Independent. Santa Barbara County recapitulates the early 1990s' national hysteria over inner city drug crime when Democrats seized the issue from Republicans with the draconian 1994 omnibus federal crime bill.

The movement to build a new jail here was given impetus by a lawsuit brought in the late 1980s alleging overcrowding. It resulted in court orders authorizing the Sheriff to release prisoners, both those being held pretrial and those serving sentences, to bring the average daily population (ADP) to within 10% of the jail's rated capacity (RC).

However, by the end of the 1990s, the ruinous cost of new incarceration facilities led to a revolt by voters who refused to approve further construction, expecially as violent crime rates stabilized before beginning a progressive decline. The change was resisted by the incarceration establishments that had developed as a byproduct of the economic activity created by the prison building boom. These establishments are composed of the large state bureaucracies that manage the incarceration systems, construction companies specializing in incarceration facilities, private prison companies, district attorneys, and various police organizations. Nowhere is the incarceration establishment more powerful than in California where the prison guards' union, CCPOA, has intimated or bought legislators by becoming one of the largest campaign donors in the state. The enormous California incarceration establishment converted itself into a powerful lobby, and in some counties it dictates local policy.  

However, in most California counties, the power of the incarceration lobby has been unable to overcome the commonsense of the electorate which refuses to support further expenditures for jails and prisons. In Santa Barbara County, voters twice rejected, by substantial majorities, well-financed ballot measures to raise taxes to pay for a new jail (61% against in both 2000 and 2010). Yet the local incarceration lobby, fully backed by elected officials and the press, has persisted and ultimately succeeded in entering into complex contracts to obtain state assistance to build not only one, but two large new jails to supplement the existing jail. This resulted from the tireless lobbying efforts of Sheriff Bill Brown, now a rising star in the incarceration establishment through his advancement in the State Sheriffs' Association. 

An excellent example of the local incarceration lobby's party-line position on the jail is found in the recent endorsement of Sheriff Bill Brown for re-election in the Santa Barbara Independent which, in its endorsements echoes the position of of the majority of locally elected Democrats. The reasons given for the endorsement are entirely based the Sheriff's success in moving the jail project ahead. Here is the entire endorsement piece:  
The endorsement piece, with its smug 'from on high" tone, is a compilation of many of the false assumptions and outright errors that permeate the case for the jail given by local pro-incarceration lobby. Thus:

1. "He did secure $120 million in state funding to build a new North County Jail." In fact, that sum is for two new jails, totaling 604 beds. The state money is  offered as part of the terms of a binding 125-page contract (for the first jail; there will be one for the second as well) between the County, the State Public 
Works Board, the State Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and the State Board of State and Community Corrections. The contract imposes significant monetary obligations on the County for construction as well as the obligation to pay the full operating costs into the indefinite future, with onerous sanctions for breech. The County is responsible for any expenditures in excess of the (not quite) $120 million state commitment for construction. That will be at least $15 million by the latest County estimates, but based on typical cost overruns could be much more. Click to read the contract.

2. The County is to buy and prepare the land, lease it to the Department of Corrections which in turn subleases the completed jail to the Board of State and Community Corrections. To pay the state's share of the construction costs, the Public Works Board issues (or attempts to issue) "lease revenue bonds" as part of a complex legal subterfuge to avoid having to go to voters for approval of normal state bonds. Lease revenue bonds are not backed by the full faith and credit of the state thus requiring payment of high interest rates and high underwriting costs to get them into the market and sold--costs we will all bear in the future as state taxpayers.

3. It seems ironic if not hypocritical for the Independent to claim to "abhor" "Amercia's insatiable appetite for "lock 'em up" laws" because laws are only part of the problem. The principal problem is in the enforcement of the laws, in particular minor drug laws, Santa Barbara County is one of the most punitive counties in the most incarceration-minded state in the most incarceration-minded country in the world. This is discussed on the SBC Criminal Justice page on this website. Santa Barbara County has been described as one of four "rich highly punitive Counties" in the state that incarcerates a far higher number of persons than counties with similar crime rates. 

4. The two new jails have very little to do with alleviating inhumane conditions. The Sheriff is seeking 604 additional jail beds not to ease the lot of the current prisoners but so that he can lock up more people for a longer time. His intention is to add the 604 new jail beds to at least 600 beds in the existing jail to create a rated capacity of over 1,200. And he claims we will still be short of needed bed space (recent letter to the Supervisors). The current rated capacity of 816 already exceeds on a per capita basis of the rated capacity of Ventura, LA, Orange and San Diego Counties. It is also well above the state per capita rated capacity despite a crime rate here well below the state average. With over 1,200 beds our capacity per hundred thousand will rival that of the highest crime counties in the entire state.

4. Who will be locked up in the new jail? The Sheriff and his ally Rosser International (the company that did the grossly inflated "needs assessments" used to persuade grand juries and the Blue Ribbon Commission to support new jail construction and that has received a $5.4 million contract for designing the first of the two new jails), believe that most sentenced prisoners currently given early release will be held to serve their full sentences once more space is available. This is in direct opposition to the reforms being suggested by the bipartisan national movement. At the latest published per diem rate (from 2010-11) of $132.02 with an historic annual increase of 5%, an additional 200 plus prisoners a day represents over $9.6 million additional cost at 2010-11 rates or an estimated additonal $14.2 million plus in 2018-19 when the new jail opens. The estimated total cost of incarcerating 1,204 prisoners in 2018-19 is in excess of $85.7 million increasing each year by 5% if the historical rate of increase of custodial operations continues.

5. One specific reason given by the Independent for the alleged need for a new jail is that the existing jail is "crammed to the gills." Agreed. But as this website  demonstrates the overcrowding is intentional, based on progressively increasing the incarceration of defendants awaiting trial as the number of prisoners serving sentences has steadily fallen since 1999. Brown's actions alone in increasing incarceration of pretrial defendants have cost the County an estimated $128 million dollars during his tenure.

6. The second specific reason given for needing another jailis that the jail is "unsafe for inmates and staff alike." In fact, safety problems are due not so much to the (unnecessary) overcrowding, but rather to understaffing by the Sheriff, poor and insufficient food resulting from a lowest-budget food contract, and gratuitously harsh and unnecessary policies (e.g. no letters, only postcards).

7. In the second paragraph of the endorsement which praises the Sheriff for making good on a campaign promise, success is treated as a virtue independently of voter support (61% voted paying any more taxes for another jail) and the consequences of "making good." There has been no examination by the press or County government about a) whether conditions have changed over 30 years so as to alter priorities and render past goals obsolete; and b) whether a lobby triumph is ipso facto a good thing for our County.

8. The endorsement displays a naive acceptance of the $20 million annual cost of operating the new jail. This website presents strong evidence that the Sheriff and Rosser have grossly underestimated the cost to avoid frightening the Supervisors. An obvious false assumption of the future operating costs is the assumption that custodial costs will increase at an annual inflation rate of just 3%, far lower than any historical rate of increase (5% or more). No one has done any independent assessment of operating costs other than that found on this website (although it is clear that Suprvisor Janet Wolff is uncomfortable with the Sheriff's data).

9. The statement that the jail "was compelled to absorb a whole new population--150 on any given day" is false. The latest estimate is that there may be a combined total in the range of 150 of low-level felons and probation or patrol violators who will receive sanctions through incarceration or in the community (such as electronic monitoring). The increase in the average daily population of sentenced prisoners has stabilized at between 54 and 80 with the total annual ADP of sentenced prisoners (the only group affected by the Realignment) at approximately 290, essentially the same as in 2009 and considerably lower than the incarcerated ADP of all years before 2009. Actual data on the Realignment demonstrates that in Santa Barbara County the only issue relevant to overcrowding continues to be the 70 plus percent of the average daily population consisting of those locked up pretrial.The suggestion that this is the fault of judges is false, especially given the wide discretionary powers assigned the Sheriff by the courts to relieve overcrowding. (As a story in the same issue of the Independent stated, "** will have to start his one-year sentence either in jail or via electroic monitoring, a decision up to the Sheriff's Department," p. 15)

10. The claim in he endorsement that problems in the jail are the result of budget cuts are unfounded. In fact, general fund expenditures for Public Safety have increased from 28% of the total in 2001 to over 60% in 2013 as Health & Human Services and Community Resources and Public Facilities have jointly fallen from 51% to just 14%. Most of increase may be attributed to soaring custodial costs. The following comparison of pie-charts is cut-and-pasted from our County budgets:
The Sheriff and supporters of additional new jails focus almost exclusively on the jagged red line running across the top of the graph that shows for each year the average daily population in the jail. That is to ignore the divided population of the jail: prisoners serving sentences versus prisoners held pretrial because they were denied release on their own recognizance with or without community controls (such as electronic monitoring); or were denied bail; or failed to make bail. 

​Arrestees not citation-released are incarcerated for a few days awaiting arraignment before a judge. The charges may be dismissed and the prisoner released; or charges may be affirmed, in which case accused persons are either released on their own recognizance (OR) or bail is set. If they cannot make bail, they remain incarcerated until they either accept a plea bargain or go to trial. Very, very few pretrial defendants in the jail opt for a trial which has an uncertain outcome and in which more severe charges are often filed.

After accepting a plea bargain, many prisoners are released without having to serve additional time. Statistics provided the BSCC by the Sheriff’s Department (available for 1997-2008) indicate that about one-third of the pretrial defendants in jail are charged with misdemeanors (32% in 2006 and 2007, 31% in 2008), and about 50% of sentenced prisoners are serving time for misdemeanors.

State prisons only hold sentenced prisoners and the options for alternatives to incarceration are far more limited than in county jails. The American Bar Association has endorsed reforms in pretrial detention that in some jurisdictions have reduced the percentage of the jail's ADP consisting of pretrial detainees to 20% or lower of the total ADP. The 20% line joins the pretrial ADP values that would have resulted each year had the actual sentenced ADP values been 80% of the total.

Note that the sentenced ADP values began to decline in 1999 and eventually reached a low of less than half of the pre-1999 values by 2010, which was the last year before the Criminal Justice Realignment began. According to the Sheriff, the Realignment reached full implementation in July of 2013; it can be seen that the ADP of sentenced prisoners stabilized at the level of 2009, and remains far below the sentenced ADP for earlier levels.

Note also that total ADP number has actually trended upwards as the sentenced ADP numbers have fallen. This is due to an increase in the percentage of the total ADP associated with prisoners held pretrial. This percent has increased from 45% in 1995 to over 70% in recent years. The percent has also increased throughout the state but at a rate less than half that seen here where the push for a new jail has been very strong and overcrowding has been the principal argument. Moreover, in Santa Barbara County, the courts, as a result of successful lawsuits alleging overcrowding, have given enormous latitude of discretion to the Sheriff over releases. 

Had the policies and procedures remained as they were in the 1990s, and the percent of the total ADP represented by pretrial detainees remained at 45%, the total would have been as shown by the blue line. It can be seen that from 2001 on, the total ADP would have been far below the jail's rated capacity eliminating any idea that we need a new jail because of overcrowding. 

​The following graph makes the trends in ADPs associated with the two classes of prisoners clear:
2. The Sheriff's intention is not to use the new jail to better care for the prisoners currently incarcerated, but rather to vastly increase the number of persons incarcerated. With at least 600 of the bed-space in the existing jail continuing to be used, and 604 additional new beds added, Santa Barbara may have the largest rated jail capacity in the entire state. And Sheriff Brown claims that even with the new jail's we will lack suficnet capac ity to lock up everyone he believes should be locked up.
I will be happy to debate anyone in public regarding the issues presented on this website. I have long urged a truly independent investigation of the entire jail project, including the role played by Rosser International.
My email is rtrenholme@ I will be out of the country until June 6, but should have access to the internet.     Russell Trenholme