Ventura County's main jail houses twice the number of prisoners it was designed to hold, yet there are vacancies in programs such as the Rose Valley Work Camp,
work furlough and work release. What is the most cost-efficient way for Ventura County to deal with the increasing number of inmates in its main jail?
Toy White Assistant district attorney From my perspective--I have a lot of contact with the public, I do a certain amount of public speaking--I have a strong sense the general public wants to be protected from people who commit crimes.
And in their mind protection means putting people who commit crimes behind bars. Most of us understand that's a pretty expensive proposition. So in my mind you've got to use state prisons and jails as the alternative for people who commit violent crimes, like repeat offenders and child molesters and drunk drivers. I think the public demands that. When you get on the other side of the scale, we see putting people in prison as a deterrent. When they say Ventura County is one of the safest places in the west, that's why. We have a reputation for being tough on crooks. I don't think the public reacts well to "commit a crime, go to your room." But as a practical matter we've got to explore less expensive alternatives for some types of crimes. You also have to reserve your jails and prisons for the people the public really needs to be protected from--repeat drunk drivers and child molesters, for example. The real problem is deciding who should go into the more expensive incarceration and who should have the opportunity to take advantage of the alternatives. I'm convinced that some of that toughness, sending people to jail and prison, sends a message to the people who are committing crimes. We're tough on crime and I think it pays off.
Madge Schaefer Ventura County supervisor I feel that alternatives are only good for guests of the County Jail, the prisoners that meet the security criteria. I don't think anyone would support putting a prisoner in the County Jail who is there for
assault, battery, violent behavior. When every prisoner comes into the system they're ranked, and a lot of the prisoners don't meet the criteria for a minimum-security facility. People ought to stop committing crimes. Sixty-six percent of the jail population is there on drug and alcohol problems. If people would stop using drugs and driving under the influence, the jail population would be reduced . . . Ventura County has made it very difficult for drunk drivers and drug users. First-time drunk driving offenders are on probation and pay a lot of money in fines. We are certain that program is working because our recidivism has dropped. We have a highly professional Sheriff's Department. The vast majority of our patrol officers have college degrees. We have judges that make it very difficult for career criminals to operate in Ventura County. Word is out about our hanging judges and I think that is exactly what the public wants. Consequently, our jails are full, but think it is important that we do not deal kindly with drug dealers. A drug dealer shouldn't go to Rose Valley. I think he ought to be behind bars.
John Flynn Ventura County supervisor I was the only county supervisor to vote against the new jail. We should take advantage of openings in the Rose Valley Work Camp and work furlough programs and other alternatives to keeping people in
the main jail. I'm sure that there are people who would be eligible for those programs. I think we should add on to the building that we presently have, and I had my own plan, which would add 750 beds to the existing jail. There are alternatives to incarceration. One would be to expand the work furlough program. Another would be to experiment with electronic surveillance. Another alternative would be to build and staff a drug treatment center. I think we have a tremendous increase in the numbers of people coming into the County Jail. If we compare today to 1980 we see a tremendous increase, and not just in Ventura County. There's a significant social and economic problem in this state and throughout the United States, and by simply building more and more cells we're not going to solve that problem. We have to address the problem. If we . . . put our minds to it and experiment with kinds of drug treatment programs that work, that's where the emphasis is going to have to be. I've been reading about how our society is becoming more and more a two-tier society. What we're really doing is we're not addressing what puts people on that bottom tier. I tried to make that argument with the supervisors, but I did not succeed.
Richard Bryce Assistant sheriff I believe that Ventura County is currently utilizing to its maximum capacity those alternative programs. If anything, we might be over-utilizing them because the recidivism rate is extremely high. I question
the validity of running persons through those alternative programs time and time again. Although it might be less costly to house a person on work furlough or even send them to stay in their own home, I'm not convinced in the long view it is less costly to the county. I'm not sure we don't wind up seeing that same individual several times a year. I have a philosophy that repeat offenders need to be dealt with as repeat offenders because, if the individual is a chronic lawbreaker, all we accomplish with the alternative program is opening up another opportunity to break the law. Every time they are reprocessed, it involves officers on the street, booking, courts, district attorneys, public offenders, probation officers and all of the machinery involved in that individual's processing. The upfront costs of keeping prisoners jump out at us. It costs only $6 to $15 a day to keep somebody on house arrest versus $20 to $40 a day to keep someone in jail, but I think those statistics are misleading because we're ignoring the cost of crime on the street plus the cost of processing through the system. I think the thing we need to do is to reduce upfront costs of incarceration by utilizing inmate labor. Any sentenced inmate ought to be in the position to perform work in the prison facility. The problem is that at the moment, legislation will not permit this because of extensive lobbying by organized labor. Labor has got to realize prison industry would benefit everyone.
Maria VanderKolk Ventura County supervisor-elect I have not been involved in decisions regarding the jail and I have not had a chance to review the proposals fully. I do not take office until January of 1991, but from what I do know, I think Supervisor John
Flynn's proposal of dividing out some of the prisoners that might belong in mental health facilities where they might be better helped has some merit. And putting more people in the work furlough program is an excellent way to work on the problem. I do not know if that would be more cost-effective, however. I have been focusing on other issues up to this point, not on the jail, but I'm confident the board will make the right decision. I think that whichever proposal ends up being the one they decide on will be appropriate. All of the proposals have merit. This is certainly an issue I'm going to have to deal with when I get to office. As I understand it there is pretty much of a quorum as far as what the Board of Supervisors is trying to accomplish. We're all concerned about this situation. One of the things that makes Ventura a good place to live is the low crime rate and effective law enforcement. As the population increases, obviously the jail population will increase as well. I'm confident the board will make the best decision according to what funding is available and land available.