Editor's Note:

Last November 2020, the Board of Supervisors unanimously decided to stop the construction of a new jail and explore alternatives to incarceration. They also promised to hold a robust community process that would include the experiences of those incarcerated, their families, and the larger community. The overwhelming response has been to keep on the track of identifying community-based alternatives that emphasize wellness and keep our communities safe. Yet the County Administration still keeps pushing for a jail. Read our collective report that stems from research, interviews, meetings and most of all - our collective lived experience -- of why our community says no new jail, and yes to alternatives to incarceration, wholeness for our communities, and reunification of families.


There is probably no greater stakeholder to the issue of a new jail than those who are incarcerated, their families, their supporting organizations, Silicon Valley De-Bug and the Care First Jail Last Coalition.  

Silicon Valley De-Bug is unique in that it has been there during every step of the criminal justice system. We are there for families through participatory defense, we are there for folks inside through prisoners human rights advocacy, we are there for pretrial release and we are there to implement local policy and state legislation. 

The issue of a new jail has been controversial within Board of Supervisors meetings. County Council has their opinions, Board of Supervisors have their opinions and County Administration has theirs. 

In County Executive Office report authored by Martha Wapenski and Veronica Marchello, they lay out areas of focus to reduce the  jail population: 

  • Decreasing jail bookings 
  • Increasing options as to release during pretrial stage  
  • Increasing speed of case processing-efficiency 
  • Reducing the length of stay in jail 
  • Expanding sentencing options 
  • Legislative changes 

Lucky for them, some of these efforts are already in the works. This decarceration report will detail why we do not need a new jail, challenge each argument to build a new jail, highlight solutions with key successful examples for alternatives that have or that can work. This report should be considered more of an attachment of support rather than a report to what the community of Santa Clara County has already overwhelmly expressed. Before Dave Cortese left to become Senator, he left a baton of decarceration that can be carried on by our Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. This effort was inspired by various community organizations and even prisoners inside our jail who went on hunger strike to create systemic change. While the board may have planned to move forward with construction of  the new jail, former supervisor Dave Cortese heard our voices which halted construction and opened discussions for something else. 


01 The Community Is Overwhelmingly In Support Of No New Jail And Alternatives To Incarceration. 

In November 2020, through the leadership of then Supervisor Dave Cortese and Supervisor Susan Ellenberg, the Board of Supervisors voted to hold a robust community process that would inform alternatives to incarceration. Our Coalition uplifted the importance of centering the voices of those directly impacted by incarceration - the ones detained and their families. There were multiple ways that community members could participate -- whether it was through zoom sessions, in person sessions, focus groups, surveys, and emails.  

The W. Haywood Burns Institute facilitated two Zoom Community Engagement Sessions and two in-person Community Engagement Sessions. Although there were some issues of the first in-person Community Engagement Session which changed locations last minute to the reentry center which in no way is convenient nor inviting and a lack of translation technology via headphones for Spanish speakers, without a doubt -- the community overwhelmingly voiced they do not want a new jail. The  Burns Institute did a miraculous job facilitating sessions and community voices from every walk of life  -- Black, Brown, White, English and Spanish speaking, rich, middle class and poor, working class and college students have all voiced that they collectively do not want a new jail! 

However, it has been clear to us how the County Executive’s Office has devalued this process, our voices and experiences. The most recent report at the 11/2/2021 Public Safety and Justice Committee meeting on “The Framework for the County’s Justice-Involved Clients” lacked the report back from the Burns Institute on the community engagement sessions, and without that report, the County Executive’s Office nevertheless made recommendations -- ignoring the voices of community members who attended sessions and focus groups.  

Furthermore, the report produced was disrespectful. The report separated two groups of people, “the impacted community” facilitated by Burns and “the general community” facilitated by EMC. Despite segregation ending decades ago, it should not come to anyone’s surprise that the impacted community is a part of the general community and both the Zoom and in-person Community Engagement sessions were open to the entire community, not just system impacted individuals. In addition, the sessions represented a diverse population of people from different backgrounds and occupations including youth, college students, medical staff, formerly incarcerated, people from the faith community, Spanish speakers and organizations who serve system impacted folks. For those who were system impacted, who else could hold better expertise than those who have been impacted directly by our criminal justice system? The Framework for the County’s Justice-Involved Clients Report was  also missing vital surveys from its biggest stakeholders and pool of experts: the incarcerated.  

The report states in a footnote that, “At this time, it is unclear if there is a plan coming forward from the participants for alternatives for the 1,700 incarcerated individuals in County custody who are charged with serious and violent felonies, and who comprise 70% of the jail population.” Judging  from an overwhelming number of people who attended the community engagement sessions and spoke during public comment, it is clear that nobody wants a new jail and carries an eagerness to plan what we can do differently for those who are incarcerated for both felonies and misdemeanors.  Unless there is another objective besides the interests of our community, there is clearly no reason to move forward with a new jail. 

The Framework for the County’s Justice-Involved Clients Report was rushed. Supervisor Wasserman made allegations and condescending remarks during the Public Safety and Justice meeting on November 4th that each and every person who spoke during public comment was biased and lacked expertise, yet the only person that carried any bias was himself only crediting the one person who leaned in his favor. 

The Board voted for a community process and the voices that came out of that process should be centered, rather than ignored or put in a box. We urge the Board to reflect on community voice so  that we can first agree that there will be no new carceral construction of any kind so that we can finally move forward with a system of decarceration.

02 Santa Clara County’s Mental Health Crisis: Jails Are Not Equipped To Deal With Mental Health Issues 

People with serious mental illness are cycling through jail. They should not be arrested and instead should be provided with mental health care they truly need. Even if the County were to divert them to the hospital, the system can't handle the numbers. As of November 8, 2021, there are 2,543  people inside Santa Clara County Jails. As of May, 2021, there were 1,109 people with serious mental ill ness, that’s 44% of the entire Santa Clara County Jail population and only about 247 psychiatric hospital beds in the County. Police usually take people to Emergency Psych Services at Valley Medical Center. Emergency Psych Services only has 30 beds. Emergency Psych Services last no more than 72 hours. 

The Silicon Valley De-Bug Pretrial Justice Release Team is in felony arraignment courts everyday, and have witnessed many individuals with mental health issues being considered for release, but their mental health challenges are layered with other challenges such as poverty, drug dependency, or profiling by law enforcement. People with serious mental illness are frequently house-less which leads to literal disconnection from the mental health system. For example, not having money or transportation or a phone makes it impossible to stay in treatment. The medications are heavily sedating and it's not safe to be  sedated on the street. People's belongings and medications get stolen. A lot of people are dual diagnosed lacking drug dependency services. Not having stable housing is a root cause of service disconnection. People with serious mental illness need a professional that is going to support them not just while incarcerated but on the outside as well. All these systems are fragmented. A person gets a social worker while they are in the hospital, but those services end when you're discharged. Too many people with serious mental illness are not linked to services that follow them while incarcerated or in the community,  especially housing. We do not have enough supportive housing beds in this County. We have almost no Board and Care beds that consist of low-level supportive services like prepared meals, and support getting to outpatient services. The little Board and Care beds that we do have are unaffordable and inaccessible.  

Building a new jail to house people with serious mental illness will not resolve our mental health and housing crisis in Santa Clara County. 

If 1,109 people with serious mental illness are inside Santa Clara County Jails and only approximately 247 psychiatric hospital beds in the County, one solution could be to create sufficient non-carceral housing modeled after Board and Care beds and Reentry Clinics for at least 1,109 people with sufficient medical and mental health case workers 24/7 and accepting walk ins that can continue services no  matter where these folks may find themselves. 

In addition, Adult Custody Health is not equipped to properly screen individuals who are being booked into the jail for mental health issues. Triggering a behavioral health screening or licensed clinical social worker often relies on self-reporting. If Behavioral Health were more involved at all stages of the criminal justice process, especially at booking, there could be a greater opportunity to divert individuals to community-based services, especially those that need more serious and long term care, instead  of warehousing individuals as they wait for their day in court. 

From our experiences with families who have loved ones inside the jail, as well as from the experiences of public defenders in mental health court, it is also common for individuals who are arrested in the  jail, are undiagnosed, and then experience a deterioration. The separation from families, isolation and lack of communication with the outside world (especially during the pandemic), long court processes,  stressful court days -- all contribute to the decline in individuals’ mental health. On top of that, at the times that individuals do reach out, they are met with little to no avenues of care. Sometimes they are put in single cells where the isolation deepens; sometimes ‘help’ comes too late.  

It is clear that jails are not therapeutic environments. While the Office of Pretrial Services has started to take over booking, the County should strengthen and facilitate the partnership between the Office of Pretrial Services, Behavioral Health, and expand the Pre-Arraignment Review and Representation Unit to be able to engage with individuals at this critical stage before individuals hit the courts. It is a cultural shift in the way individuals are treated. Robin Daniels Wilson, Senior Manager with Behavioral Health Services, says “One successful strategy is to intervene all along ( in the process), to use motivational interviewing, help persons with severe illness, those not willing to get treatment or intervention  and encourage them to participate with services. We encourage individuals to look at their options, to  know there are resources, and to treat people with respect.”

03 Remember Michael Tyree: The Blue Ribbon Commission and 2 Federal Consent Decrees already have clear pathways to correct current jail conditions that don’t involve building a new jail. 

Michael Tyree was only 31 years and struggled with drug dependency and bipolar disorder. He had just completed his five-day sentence for violating probation on a minor drug charge, but the judge thought it may be best for Michael to wait in jail until a psychiatric treatment bed becomes available rather than being on the streets. Michael never received the care he needed nor did he have the opportunity for a bed to be available. He was murdered by three correctional officers. Silicon Valley De-Bug staff sat next to Michael’s sister while we heard the verdict in court. Although the words “Guilty” may appear to have a sense of accountability, it could never bring this young man back, nor did it fix the problem, just as a new jail won’t. Three officers, and the toxic jail culture of correctional staff murdered Michael.  

In addition, in a meeting with the Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers Association and members of our coalition, SCCCPOA representatives stated themselves that they are not equipped to deal with detained individuals with mental health issues -- on top of the other security issues that arise within the jails. According to them, their training mostly is in response to dealing with suicide calls - even though many of the mental health issues reveal themselves in different ways. A representative stated, “(Mental health needs) are a huge challenge on top of what we were hired to do. Mental health is understaffed so they can’t help us; staffing forces us into a role that we’re not trained for and not hired to do. It’s not fair to people who need intervention who need much more than what we are trained for.”  

In another meeting among the Care First, Jail Last Coalition, the Supervisor of the Mental Health Team at the Santa Clara County Public Defender’s office, and the Behavioral Health Services Team, it was dis appointing to hear that the same circumstances that kept Michael Tyree waiting for a mental health bed  space in the jail exist to this day -- six years later. As of April 2021, the Jail Assessment Coordination (JAC) waitlist had 52 individuals waiting for bed space. For the ones needing substance abuse treatments, the  wait was for more than 10 days, and it was longer for those needing mental health treatment.  

Individuals inside and their families outside had been calling for systemic changes in the jail before Michael was murdered, and the death of Michael Tyree was only the tip of the sword that further exposed the culture that entrenched and protected the behavior that led to his death. During the same year of Michael Tyree’s unfortunate passing, the now demolished Main Jail South housed people in solitary confinement, depriving these men from out of cell time, human contact, access to their attorneys and met with substandard living solely because of their charges. Due to their own experiences of correctional officer brutality and inhumane conditions, a draft to a lawsuit citing cruel and unusual punishment was written, as well as demands to a hunger strike. Silicon Valley De-Bug staff received calls directly from these folks inside, supported their families’ concerns, and amplified their voices. As a result, some demands were met but often arbitrarily and the Prison Law Office picked up a lawsuit which led to a federal consent decree.  

Shortly after, Santa Clara County formed the Blue Ribbon Commission headed by Judge Ladoris Cordell that made 80 recommendations in 13 different areas in jail operations and management. As of August  2021, 54% of those recommendations have been completed. In addition, the county is under two federal consent decrees -- Chavez vs. County of Santa Clara, and Cole vs. County of Santa Clara. Combined, both remedial plans detail 463 separate items to ensure the County becomes compliant. Neither the Blue Rib bon Commission nor the two federal consent decrees require the construction of a new jail for the County  to come into compliance. 

One achievement was accomplished, Main Jail South has now been demolished. But to be clear, it's not the old jail that solely needed demolishing, it's the way we view and treat those inside our jails. There is no other more compelling voice than Shannon, the sister of Michael Tyree, who has continued to  urge the County to not let his death be in vain. In her letter to the Board of Supervisors when they were considering adopting the Blue Ribbon Commission recommendations, she writes: 

“I know you are considering many recommendations from studies completed on the jail. I ask you to particularly consider the issues of independent oversight, use of force, the housing and treatment of  mentally ill inmates, efforts to notify the family of the incarceration of mentally ill inmates, bail reform,  inmate complaint without retaliation, the accountability of officers and quick response and transparency in disciplinary actions. 

Nothing will bring Michael back. Doing everything we can to ensure this never happens again can at least give his death meaning.” 

As outlined in the consent decrees and Blue Ribbon Commission findings, the County Jail needs to be as committed to access to rehabilitation and human dignity as they are to security. All classification levels should have access to a yard, rehabilitation programs, education, out of cell time and contact visits. Maximum security prisoners should have a behavioral based path to lower security levels to increase their  privileges and access to programs. College unit transferable classes, work pay numbers, job placement,  top tier medical, dental and mental health care and Prop 57 eligible credits should be attained. 

Our County can give Michael Tyree’s passing a meaning, by not arresting people with serious mental ill ness and instead providing them with care they truly need. Frankly, a new jail is a scapegoat that will only expand our crisis, not resolve it.

 04 Building a New Jail Gives the Sheriff More Power. 

While we championed Supervisor Joe Simitian’s courageous efforts for a no confidence vote of the Sheriff, we also acknowledge that although Supervisor Simitian’s argument for no confidence is sound, our crisis in our jails can not be isolated to the Sheriff alone. Although Supervisor Simitian’s sentiments hold true,  we cannot have systemic change while our current Sheriff is running the jail. The issue at hand is system ic, not just an individual one. 

Although the no-confidence vote was successful, it holds no real power to appoint a new Sheriff. The Sheriff is still running the jail, investigation or not. While the Sheriff continues her reign, the jail remains  under her power. Building a new jail only expands the Sheriff’s power, not strips her from it. A commitment of Supervisor Simitian to systemic change instead of building a new jail directly strips the Sheriff of  her power if we can strategically invest in decarceration. 

Ironically, even the Sheriff agrees that people with serious mental illness should not be incarcerated and that there shouldn’t be a new jail. Although we believe that the Sheriff is accountable for the dignity and  well being of all those inside, she is correct about one thing: the issue at hand is systemic. 

Both decarcerating our jails and limiting the Sheriff’s powers is a win-win for our community as a whole  no matter what Sheriff is running the jails. If folks serve their time outside of the construct of incarceration, only the board has power over the dignity and well-being of our community, not the Sheriff. 

05 Decarceration efforts already exist in the county.  

Currently, 88% of the population in Santa Clara County Jail are pretrial - meaning they are innocent  until proven guilty.  

In no way discussing a complete shutdown of the jails, we are merely bringing to light a need to invest in our communities, not a new jail. Building a New Main Jail South will in no way solve the crisis of our  jails. This jail in no way is designed to house the entire jail population, its entire severe mental health  population, or have sufficient yards, and rehabilitation programs. 

The new jail is not a replacement facility, nor is it a remodeling of Main Jail and Elmwood, or fit for a Mental Health facility, its expansion. The current jail population is at its lowest peak in history, we are not running out of room and violence and crime is not running rampant on the streets. Public Safety  can thank two key factors, recent statewide prison reform efforts and pretrial release post Covid-19. The data paints a clear picture that can not be misinterpreted: alternatives work, jails don’t. '

An unprecedented shift in incarceration is occurring in Santa Clara County. The jail population has  dropped by an average of more than half -- having gone from a peak of 4,386 people held in-custody  in 2014, to barely hovering over 2,000 for the first quarter of 2021. The shrinking in-custody numbers could be attributed to a constellation of factors – some intentional decarceral efforts by the community, county, and state laws that have been developing for years, and some responses to the COVID crisis. Namely, the county employed a jail depopulation strategy last year to reduce likelihood of COVID out breaks in the jail – such as a broader pretrial release of those detained, and utilizing a Zero Bail policy in which certain charges would have no corresponding financial barrier to release for people. And with a jail that is filled overwhelmingly by those held pretrial (meaning they haven’t been convicted of a crime, only charged) the dial which has the most impact on jail population numbers is pretrial detention. As an  example of a daily snapshot - on August 31st, 2021 those who were in jail but “unsentenced” accounted for 89% of the total population. 

For the past four years at De-Bug, we have been building this approach in a model we call the Community  Release Project. The program is a piece of a larger community driven pretrial justice effort we do in collaboration with public defenders and the Office of Pretrial Services. The approach has three prongs – intervention at arraignment (the first court date), bail hearings, and the Community Release Project which is applied anywhere along the pretrial process. 

Community Driven Pretrial Justice 

At arraignment court, organizers work with families who show  up at court (“families” being broader than blood relatives – could be friends, neighbors, people who love and support the person) to get information to the public defender to best articulate the reasoning for  release and reduction of the bail amount. If release isn’t secured, organizers work with the family to collect more information to get to the attorney for the ensuing bail hearing – showing the consequences of detention on the person and family and what support the family can provide for the person while out. The premise is to give the court  a fuller account of who someone is beyond a case file or a depiction by a prosecutor. 

For people who don’t have family present at court, or  could use extra support regardless, there is the offer of the Community Release Project (CRP). Our organization will offer the person court reminders, transportation to court,  or from jail to the place they will stay at, navigation to  access social services and re-entry services, and identifying  housing options and mental health and substance abuse  programs. Through CRP, we have been able to secure treatment and mental health support housing for people, so  when the public defender is making a case for release at a bail hearing – they can already answer the anticipated questions by the court. 

People who are released are invited to optional weekly support meetings as well, so the otherwise isolating, stressful, and oftentimes stigmatizing experience of facing the criminal court process can be under stood in a communal environment. It’s also a consistent, rhythmic, way for people to stay on top of their court dates given that everyone is juggling all of the other life responsibilities beyond their case. And  more and more, the courts are starting to include community support into their release decision analysis. In 2019, in a comparative study of 100 pre-arraignment cases, 85% of judges imposed the set bail using the standard bail schedule. However, when offered these community supports, reliance on the bail schedule dropped to 48%. The non-monetary release rate increased from 9% to 37% — four times the rate of  people being released without having to pay money bail. The impact was also evident at the bail hearing  stage, where a review of 25 bail hearings in a three month period lifting up community support showed 19  cases had the bail amount significantly reduced, or turned into non-monetary release. 

The County can expand on this model. In fact, on the Reentry end of the criminal justice process, we have a robust array of services available to individuals being released from jail or prison. These services can  be replicated on the front-end and expand the services and resources available to individuals who come in contact with the criminal justice system. 

The County should also expand on the Pre-Arraignment Review and Representation Unit of the Public Defender’s Office that allows public defenders to intervene at one of the arguably most critical moments of the criminal justice process -- between arrest and arraignment. Oftentimes, the experience of De-Bug families at court have shown us that with community support and information of the specific needs of individuals, we at De-Bug have been able to assure the Courts that individuals can return to  court to address the charges they are facing as well as provide any support they need to dismantle any  underlying issues to begin with. 

COVID-19 Outbreaks in the Jails. 

Santa Clara County Jails is the fifth largest jail system in California. Pre-COVID-19, the average daily population was approximately 3,638 a day. Post-Covid, Santa Clara County Jails released lower-risk individuals to reduce the risk of COVID-19. Our population today is 2500. 

What district attorneys and judges were concerned with when releasing folks pretrial before COVID-19, were all proved wrong. Crime has not jumped and there is still public safety. 

Although social distancing, visit cancellation, lack of masks and maintaining a clean environment was  an issue, the greater issue was not the issues of prevention, but rather the treatment of those inside  positive with the virus. Silicon Valley De-Bug families advocated for their loved ones who were positive with the virus. While these men were COVID-19 positive, they were all put in the infirmary for an entire week, receiving inadequate care and told to share a mop bucket to bathe in. Other folks inside were transferred to cells with feces. One woman in the women’s facility was locked away in a cell full of  blood and bandages. Due to a shortage of masks, a concerned mother donated thousands of dollars  worth of masks to prevent her son and others in his unit from being infected with the virus, and de spite proactive efforts, her son caught the virus after an outbreak in his unit. 

The jail, old or new, is not designed for a pandemic and there lacks the proper medical care needed for  people inside. Pretrial release does work. Currently there are 254 people pretrial with a misdemeanor  charge. They can all be safely released pretrial with the proper support. There are 2,005 people inside  pretrial for a felony. They can all be considered for community release or some conditions for release  while they await sentencing. 

In addition, during the pandemic, the Judicial Council adopted a zero bail schedule for misdemeanors and certain low-level felonies. Even after the emergency bail schedule, Santa Clara County judges continued to adopt these zero-bail policies. Judges, when able to use their discretion, should use it in the framework of decarceration, consider release first, rehabilitation and services. Judge Stephen Manley has advocated for restoration centers for years citing similar centers already existing in other parts of the country.  

This was not without the atmosphere in our county -- one that empowered and resourced the Pretrial  Services Agency, approved the creation of the PARR Unit, and with judges supporting community re lease .This holistic approach allows it so individuals facing charges can address whatever underlying or  systemic issues occur that might have led to an arrest. It is our duty to match this decarceration success rate with not not only early release, pretrial release and rehabilitation programs, but also contributing to solving the root causes of crime and violence in  our communities... Poverty and inequality. 

An investment on a sustainable economy, a path to home ownership, health care, higher education,  entrepreneurship and racial equality in communities most impacted by the criminal justice system  could speak volumes. If the Tech industry is the largest factor furthering the divide between the haves and the have nots, it may prove to be secure that there is a tech track for all students entering public  schools, prioritizing communities that are most impacted by the criminal justice system to secure a career in tech, eliminating poverty in our county. Santa Clara County has one of the most culturally rich  and diverse communities and histories in the country, yet there is almost no investment in the arts or  preservation of history and culture in our county. There is no reason why Silicon Valley, the most innovative region in the world, can not somehow come up with a clever way to invest in our most valuable  asset, our people. 

06 Reduce overpolicing and overcharging by law enforcement and the  District Attorney that has resulted in racial disproportionalities in  the jail.  

48,000 people are booked every year by law enforcement serving an average of 206 days. Black people make up only 3% of the adult population in Santa Clara County, yet make up 12% of adults booked  into jail. Raza make up 22% of the adult population in Santa Clara County, yet they make up over half of (51%) of adults booked into jail. Last year, San Jose was the first major city to lead Bay Area police accountability demonstrations in response to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. This reflects over policing and brutality that exists in our barrios and a culture of criminalization of Raza and Black people at the hands of police departments and district attorneys. 

Police can simply not respond to mental health and homeless calls and refer them to the appropriate service. Instead of booking folks, police can cite and release. 

While progressive District Attorneys in San Francisco and LA have vowed not to charge gang enhancements, post-George Floyd, our district attorney became inspired to implement what would appear to be progressive policies. Despite good intentions, the district attorney made a point of continuing to target what he described as gangs. It is this culture that provoked the former Chief of Police to publicly criminalize cultural and faith symbols of the Huelga Bird and a rosary after an arrest. In the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), Black people make up 24% of those serving time for gang enhancements, Raza make up 68%, making a total of 92% of Raza and Black people serving more time for their offenses than their white counterparts simply because of the neighborhoods they come from. 

The District Attorney can stop charging simply because they can. No one in this county has as much pow er over the incarcerated population as much as the District Attorney. If the district attorney would be truly progressive, he could stop charging all enhancements (Gun, Gang etc.) People have to already serve their sentence if found guilty or if they take a deal, there is no reason to serve more time than one needs  to. This is inclusive of life without parole, drug sales and 3 strikes. If we expect to have a new culture of decarceration, it all starts from the top: the District Attorney. 

05 Funding and resources should be directed to trusted community  organizations providing services for those with mental health issues and  longterm community wellness. 

Although it has been sold as “The new jail that will solve all our problems,” it will certainly not. Nearly $400 million of Santa Clara County tax dollars was proposed to build a new jail for people with severe mental illness, the general population near release from Elmwood’s minimum security camp, and people from protective custody mimicking CDCR’s disastrous Non-Designated Programming Facility yards. This nearly $400 million doesn’t take into account the costs of maintaining that facility - including program ming and staffing. Although a nicer jail may sound enticing, it's a short-sighted solution that completely ignores the crisis of our jails  

No matter how nice of a jail it is, a new jail is still a jail, and correctional officers are still correctional officers, not mental health care workers.Although the minimum camp in Elmwood is just as important, people with short sentences and minimum security classification were not the population that was most impacted by solitary confinement and inhumane conditions. This population did not initiate the hunger strikes. The population formerly housed in the now demolished Main Jail South did. Frankly, why would  anyone in Elmwood’s minimum camp with all its privileges and resources want to give up open barrack living for a locked down facility?  

We don’t need a new jail, we need a new system of decarceration, healing, and support. One that can pro vide the care needed for our mental health folks and dignity, rehabilitation services and alternatives to  incarceration for the remaining population. 

Instead of warehousing individuals with mental health issues in jails only to expose them to further harm and deterioration, the County should direct funding and resources to community organizations that pro vide services for those with mental health issues and longterm community wellness.  

In a meeting between members of the Care First, Jail Last Coalition and the Behavioral Health Contractors Association, a coalition of community-based organizations who provide over 70% of mental health  services in the county and over 90% of mental health services to individuals involved with the criminal  justice system, service providers pointed to two solutions that the County can do to support individuals  with mental health needs.  

The first solution is the need for design and implementation of mental health services driven by what the community needs, versus what is reimbursed by Medi-Cal. Most mental health issues are chronic, and  services essentially stop after 30-90 days due to lack of funding. However, our experience is that individuals need longer term support to avoid cycling right back into jail and/or expensive acute care, folks need support navigating finding a job, housing, managing debt, etc. Funding that would have gone to jail operations can be reprioritized to address this gap. 

The second solution is the need to decriminalize mental illness and using another entity other than law  enforcement as the first point of contact for individuals with mental health issues. The County recently launched efforts to create a community-based mobile response to crisis interventions that do not involve  law enforcement. There should be time and resources allotted to these efforts to give it room to grow and  be tested as an alternative to incarceration and police custody. In addition to that, there should be more community entry points for dealing with mental health – instead of the jail becoming the default. 

Another solution could be to replicate the Los Angeles based model. Los Angeles County has a diverse  and robust model that starts with the lens of health -- expanding Behavioral Health to booking, diversion, reentry, and replacing Custody Health in order to achieve decarceration. 

Just recently, Senator Dave Cortese and Supervisor Cindy Chavez opened a $50 million service center to  serve the Vietnamese community. This service center will provide a pharmacy, health clinic, dental and  mental health services, meeting rooms and child care facilities that are culturally relevant. The new jail  is said to cost almost $400 million to construct, with those numbers, instead of being a new jail, we can invest in building eight culturally relevant service centers throughout the county, prioritizing communities  that are most impacted by the criminal justice system. 


The November 10, 2021 Framework for the County’s Justice-Involved Clients report lacked most vital voices -- those who are incarcerated and their communities impacted by the criminal justice system. The Burns  community engagement sessions not only reflect the impacted community, they represent the general public, who are the experts, and it is overwhelmingly clear that there is a plan for alternatives beginning with first shutting down the new jail so that we can move forward with building a system of decarceration. What the Framework for the County’s Justice-Involved Clients report did demonstrate to us, is that the care for the incarcerated is still not important. 

In closing, we strongly urge the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors to keep on the path of exploring alternatives to incarceration.