Santa Barbara Jail Facts
Pretrial Detention and Early Releases
.Given the significant expense of constructing and operating jail beds, counties may want to consider alternatives that would reduce the demand for jail beds while maintaining public safety. Among the alternatives are pretrial programs that assess risk and manage in the community those defendants who are low risk for flight and committing a new crime.
In California, 71 percent of jail beds are filled with pretrial detainees, from very low risk to
high risk. That compares to 61 percent nationally. Whether or not detainees are released
often is based on their ability to pay bail versus their risk. As a result, many defendants
who are considered low risk for flight and to commit a new crime are detained in jails
because they cannot afford bail. The higher rate of pretrial detention coupled with plans
to allocate considerable funds to build and operate new jail beds are reasons for counties
to carefully consider whether establishing a pretrial program could reduce cost while
maintaining public safety.
Many California counties have significantly reduced their need for expensive jail beds by
implementing pretrial programs that use assessments to determine risk and then release
detainees who are low risk for flight and committing new crimes on own recognizance
(OR) or an OR bond with some form of supervision.
A review of the pretrial programs in five California counties (Marin, Santa Clara, Santa
Cruz, San Francisco and Yolo) found that all had positive outcomes related to the
number of pretrial detainees in jails, defendant court appearance rates, and new crimes
committed. A recent study of Santa Clara County’s pretrial program concluded that the
program saves the county $32 million per year.
The American Bar Association and the National Association of Pretrial Services
Agencies have promulgated standards for pretrial programs, which call for limiting
the circumstances under which pretrial detention may be authorized and providing
procedural safeguards to govern pretrial detention proceedings. This standard is based
on the law which favors the release of defendants pending adjudication of charges.
Though the research on effective pretrial programming is not as robust as in some other
areas of corrections, evidence does point to the benefit of pretrial risk assessment and the
implementation of a continuum of pretrial supervision options.
Risk and needs assessment is a core component of any pretrial program. Objective
risk and needs assessment tools that have been validated for the local population are critical to determining which defendants are low risk for flight and committing a new crime
and determining services needed to reduce risk (e.g. drug treatment/testing, intensive or nonintensive supervision).
Data from the Board of State and Community Corrections shows that the percentage of individuals awaiting trial in California’s county has risen 12 points from 1995 through the third quarter of 2011 (Board of State and Community Corrections [BSCC], 2011). That proportion was 71 percent for most of 2011 and the same in 2010, above the national average of 61 percent (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2011) comprising roughly 50,000 of the 71,000 jail inmates in the state.
As early as 2001, the total ADP would have dropped far below 700 never to return as high as 650 again. Even the supposed surge of minor felons from the Realignment would not pushed the level as high above 550. The ADPs for every year since 2001 would have been hundreds lower than the existing jail's Rated Capacity of 816 (as reported to the BSCC). Jailing all those extra defendants awaiting trial has not only caused a great deal of unnecessary suffering, but has also cost our County as much as $150 million dollars (over $128 million since 2007 as shown in the last row of the above spreadsheet).
Even post Realignment, the total ADP would not have exceeded 530.
The annual ADP of Prisoner's serving sentences is shown by the blue bars. If the 45% rate of the mid-nineties had continued, the total ADP would have been represented by the top of the red portion of the bars. In 2001, the total ADP would have fallen far below the jail's 816 registered capacity, and subsequently the highest it would have reached was 658 in 2008. Even with the increase in total ADP post Realignment, it has never reached even 530 since then.
What Would Have Happened Had the Pretrial ADP Remained at 45%?
The graph shown at the beginning of this webpage gives a good idea of the changes in pretrial incarceration since the mid to late nineteen nineties under Sheriff Jim Thomas. The graph shown below shows the effects of the change in pretrial detention policy more explicitly the the graph shown above.
To avoid quibbles over the per diem multiplier, I took the rate of increase in custodial operations from fiscal 2006-2007 to fiscal 2013-2014 ($32,082,962 to $45,222,640) which is just over 5% compounded annually, then used a 5% annual increase to calculate past per diem costs. (The State BSCC shows the per diem for Santa Barbara County as of December 2013 as $132.02.) These values were then applied to the difference (delta) in prisoner-days between what Santa Barbara County actually experienced and what it would have experienced each year had the pretrial percentage of total ADP been at the level in the comparison county during the year.
The results show the staggering cost to our County during the past seven years under Sheriff Bill Brown, who has used jail overcrowding as his principal reason for claiming we need a new jail. Had the Sheriff detained persons pretrial at the rate of Sonoma County (the closest comparative county according to our annual budget reports) he would have saved taxpayers almost $117 million; at the San Luis Obispo County rate, over $128 million; at the Orange County rate, over $116 million. If the jailing of pretrial prisoners had been at the Santa Barbara County rate during the high crime years of 1995-1998, we would have saved almost $147 million (above the amount estimated in the table on the home page).
Moreover, it can be seen that the total ADP would have fallen well below the Rated Capacity every year except 2008 if the pretrial ADP percentages had been equal to those in Orange or Sonoma Counties; well below the rated capacity in every year from 2007 on if the Santa Barbara rate had equaled that of San Luis Obispo County; and well under the rated capacity in 2010, 2011, and 2013 had the rate been that of San Diego County; and in LA County, it would have been below our rated capacity in 2010, 2012, and, 2013. Conforming with the rates recorded in any of these counties would have effectively killed the principal argument for building a new jail.
What Will Happen if the New Jail is Built?
It is widely believed that our Sheriff will find a way of filling the considerably larger rated capacity of the new jail (or jails) once built. This is not a merely matter of conjecture, because the Sheriff has been quite explicit in stating that with the construction of additional capacity, pretrial prisoners currently citation-released (under an October 2005 program instituted to alleviate overcrowding) will be incarcerated pretrial and those given early release "under court orders" will be kept incarcerated to serve out their full sentences to "preserve the integrity of the criminal justice system" and to "send a message to the criminal element." In fact, in his April 15, 2014 report to the Supervisors he stated that even with the two new jails "The completed facility does not meet the current or reasonably immediate projected needs of the Santa Barbara criminal justice system capacity."
The intention of ending citation releases of those charged with misdemeanors is made clear in the Sheriff's 2012 Proposal for AB 900 funds to build the new jail, where he wrote, "To deal with overcrowding, most misdemeanor offenders (sic) are immediately citation-released from the facility." (p. 30) This, coupled with the statement on p. 2 that "SBC is rapidly approaching losing the deterrent option to impose incarceration as a consequence for misdemeanor offenses" demonstrates that the Sheriff considers pretrial incarceration as the appropriate "deterrent" to misdemeanor offenses regardless of whether those charged with such offenses are, in fact, guilty of the offenses that they're charged with.
To determine the potential increase in pretrial ADP and its cost when the additional capacity of the new jail is available, we need an estimate of how long persons charged with misdemeanors may be expected to serve pretrial. Despite the Sheriff's claim that "almost all" of those charged with misdemeanors are site released, the enormous number of this population leaves open the possibility that many others, were, in fact, incarcerated pretrial. This is confirmed by statistics from 2007 and 2008--the last years the county submitted such data to the BSCC. The BSCC data show that 20% of pretrial inmates were held on misdemeanor charges in 2007 and 31% in 2008. The new 2013 Needs Assessment provides data on the duration of pretrial detention for these persons for 2009-2012: the average number of days those charged with misdemeanors were held is 9.45.
Applying this to the pretrial misdemeanor citation-release numbers given to the BSCC for the past five years (strangely, they were not given to the BSCC in 2007 and 2008) we get an average of approximately 6,000 citation-releases per year, and thus approximately 56,700 pretrial misdemeanor release days a year. This means that the cite-releases under the October 2005 program reduced custodial costs by about $7.5 million per year at the current per diem rate. When the new jail comes on line and cite releases cease, we can expect additional custodial costs of $7.5 million a year adjusted up according to the custodial inflation rate (at 5% projected forward 5 years we would have an annual increase in total custodial costs of about $9.6 million).
Ending early releases would add, at current per diem rates, approximately $3 million per year more, which will increase at custodial inflation rate of 4.9%. (Early release data from the Sheriff's Department's annual reports for 2007 through 2012 show 26,755 early release days at an average of $111.68 for a total of $2,964,373.) The County's current excessively high incarceration rate relative to our population size and Part 1 crime rates would surge upwards even higher as jail slots open to incarcerate those pretrial defendants and to end early release for sentenced prisoners.
Although the Sheriff (and Rosser, in their needs assessments) talk as if the Sheriff's actions are tightly regulated by court order related to overcrowding, it is clear from court documents that he has enormous control both over pretrial releases (deciding who is too dangerous to be released) and early releases of sentenced prisoners. In the case of early releases, this has enabled him to reduce the number of prisoners released early from 2009 to 2012 as the push for a new jail heated up. If mere numbers released are looked at, we find an 80% decline in early releases, although in 2012 this was partially offset by an increase in the average number of days of early release:
● The ADP of Sentenced Prisoners during the first four years of reported stats (1995-1998) averaged 516, or 55% of the total ADP; Pretrial Defendants contributed 45%. Those were the last years of high violent crime rates that caused overcrowding.
● In 1999, as an organized push for a new jail began, the Sentenced Prisoner ADP fell to 458 and continued falling in the following years. Overcrowding should have ceased to be an issue after the year 2000.
● By 2001, the Sentenced-Prisoner ADP had fallen to 363. This situation was concealed by locking up more and more pretrial defendants so that the Pretrial ADP rose to 57% and overcrowding continued.
Are other counties as intent on Jailing pretrial defendants as Santa Barbara County?
Is there any reason why California counties are jailing increasing numbers of defendants pretrial?
The rate of jailing pretrial defendants varies over a wide range from county to county, although on average rates have been increasing since the 1990s. This undoubtedly reflects a reluctance to leave jail beds empty which perhaps would trigger a cut in custodial budgets.
What is significant, however, is the degree of increase in Santa Barbara County's rate of pretrial detention: from 45% in the late 1990s to over 70% ten years later. This 25%+ increase is more than twice the 12% statewide rate of increase during the same period, a clear testament to the zealous and highly punitive nature of our criminal justice system as described on the webpage SBC Criminal Justice on this site.
At the same time, there are many counties including Orange County to our South and Sonoma (one of Santa Barbara County's closest "comps" according to our annual reports), which have rates far lower than ours. This spreadsheet reveals how much we would have saved had we kept to incarceration practices of the past (last comparison in spreadsheet) or adopted procedures of some of the other counties.
In Santa Barbara the increase from 45% to greater than 70% (79.3% in 2010) is more than triple the state rate of increase of 12 points during the same period. This is due in large part to discretion on releases given to the Sheriff by local courts charged with supervising reduction of overcrowding. (In fact, the increase in Santa Barbara County from 1995 to 2010, the last full year before the Realignment, was 69% representing a 32 point gain here versus 12 percentage points statewide.) It is also the case that the relentless pursuit of a new jail backed by the local pro-incarceration lobby (with full support of the local DA's office and the unanimous approval of the Supervisors), has effectively precluded the type of community planning and pretrial detention reforms recommended in the report which is being implemented in other counties.
Why Has There Been No Consideration of Alternatives? It is peculiar that from the late nineties until now there has never been a serious attempt to examine alternatives to construction of a new jail, alternatives that would reduce incarceration in favor of community-based programs. Speculatively, we may say that 1) the County political establishment fell under the sway of the pro-incarceration lobby during the peak crime years and never seriously questioned that position or became open to consider alternatives; 2) there was an excessive and almost reckless delegation of all jail issues to the Sheriff's Department; 3) the pro-incarceration lobby cleverly presented the overcrowding issue in humanitarian terms that, in the absence of any independent investigation by the local media, succeeded in persuading local liberals that building a new jail was a humane venture; and 4) Rosser International provided grossly inadequate but effective propaganda claiming the future need for many more jail beds.
Another excellent report is from the Little Hoover Commission:
Although the emphasis in the report is on cooperative planning to set up effective programs for keeping many more defendants free while awaiting trial, Sheriffs Anderson and especially Bill Brown must bear heavy responsibility for the excessive incarceration of pretrial defendants given the powers conveyed to them by the courts. The report goes on to notes that
Our Sheriff says:
“The Average Daily Population (ADP) in Santa Barbara County has consistently exceeded rated bed capacity for 30 years... there are no inmates in custody suitable for early release.”
What's the real truth?
The words "suitable for early release" apparently refer to the Sheriff's Department's risk assessment procedures, including COMPAS, (Correctional Offender Management and Profiling Alternative Sanctions). COMPAS is, however, not a tool for deciding when to cite-release arrestees, and the wide variation both over a period of years in a single county, and between counties, suggest extreme variation in decisions regarding early release.
The claim that most of those incarcerated pretrial are dangerous is absurd both with respect to the 30% of those held pretrial who are charged with misdemeanors but also with respect to the majority of those charged with felonies. The changes in the penal code in the 1980s and '90s added a very large number of petty felonies, most relating to non-violent petty drug offenses.
Moreover, the fact that the Average Length of Stay Report (Appendix C of the 2013 Needs Assessment) shows an average length of stay in the jail in 2012 (latest year reported) of less than a month for felons and less than two weeks for misdemeanants. These rapid returns to the community hardly support the view that pretrial release of most of prisoners would add in any measurable way to the alleged dangers they pose to their communities.
Of course, high multi-year recidivism rates do demonstrate that many released prisoners will eventually commit some sort of crime (often victimless) but short of locking them up for life for minor offenses or executing them, these prisoners will soon be released to return their communities. This, in fact, is one of the primary motivations for replacing incarceration with community-based treatment and reentry programs rather than prolonging expensive incarceration for minor felonies and misdemeanors that only removes prisoners further and further from a normal life on the outside, thereby making recidivism more likely.
The Sheriff's Discretionary Power
The Sheriff has been given enormous discretionary power by the courts to reduce jail overcrowding. He establishes criteria for who is "suitable" not only for early release of prisoners serving sentences, but more importantly, for "own recognizance" releases of defendants pretrial. The language of the court orders that he claims control his actions and force releases, in fact provide him with considerable leeway.
A court order from 1998 "authorizes" the Sheriff to "utilize the early release criteria...in determining which inmates are to be released early..." A later order accepts the suggestion of then-Sheriff Anderson: "Sheriff Jim Anderson has proposed ... provide the Sheriff with authority to change booking criteria... " (May 24, 2005)
Contrary to what Sheriff Brown suggests, the local courts are not closely monitoring how he decides whom, or how many, arrestees charged with misdemeanors are to be released or what recommendations he makes regarding release of those charged with felonies.
At the same time, it is also clear that Santa Barbara's County's aggressive prosecution of minor crimes, and especially minor drug crimes, contributes to the size of the jail population. But without the excessive incarceration of pretrial defendants that fact alone would not create overcrowding. As we shall see shortly, other counties with a reputation for aggressive and punitive policies (for example, Orange County) have significantly lower percentages of their ADP represented by pretrial defendants than does Santa Barbara County.
The Biggest Problem: Over 70% of the Average Daily
Population of Our Jail Consists of Pretrial Defendants
The U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, believes that thinks that “Almost all of these [pretrial] individuals could be released and supervised in their communities…”
Many libertarian conservative Republicans (notably Rand Paul, Richard Viguerie, and Newt Gingrich) agree with Attorney General Eric Holder that the number of pretrial defendants released could be freatly increased. An excellent article on the subject of pretrial detention reform was published online by The Partnership for Community Excellence:
A report discussing some specific issues relating to pretrial detention in Santa Barbara County, including our very high bail levels, may be viewed by clicking here.
Key Facts on Pretrial Incarceration in the Santa Barbara County Jail