Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: We need affordable standards

The solution to the county jail expansion issue can be found in Sacramento. The solution lies in Title 15 of the California Administrative Code, commonly known as the Minimum Jail Standards for local and state facilities. Title 15 sets forth construction requirements for county jails, as well as other requirements.

Title 15 is not law. However, defense lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union use the standards to sue local governments that do not comply. Also, state funding is withheld when a facility is not in compliance.

Title 15 was adopted when economic times were good and compliance did not put a strain on local governments. For example, construction standards require, among other things, concrete wall construction, 48 square feet of living space for inmates in a single cell and an outside light source (a window). Sailors assigned to submarines have less personal living space than do inmates. The square-footage costs for a Type I facility, as set forth in Title 15, are around three to four times that of a single-family dwelling.

I suggest that our county Board of Supervisors contact our local representatives in Sacramento and tell them it is time to revise Title 15. Economic times are tough; people are out of work and tax revenues are down.

We can no longer afford these fortress-type facilities. As a retired county jail manager for seven years, I can tell you that only approximately 20 percent of county jail inmates require maximum-security housing units. Most county jail inmates are in custody awaiting trial or serving less than one-year sentences for misdemeanor or low felony crimes.

Why house 80 percent of inmates in high-cost, maximum-security housing units when a minimum-security type facility, such as barracks surrounded by a 14-foot- high security fence and monitored by security cameras would do the job?

Not only is it less expensive to build minimum-security facilities, staffing requirements also are much lower. That’s an important consideration, because one of the major problems facing counties is not the cost of construction, it’s the cost of staffing maximum-security facilities. Santa Barbara County, for instance, has been working on a plan to build a jail in Santa Maria since 1995. The problem is not the land or the construction funding, it’s the on-going staffing costs.

When a person is booked into a county jail, his or her criminal history, flight risk, gang affiliations and other factors are reviewed by the classification officers. Most do not require single-cell housing and can be mixed with other inmates in a minimum-security setting. Inmates assigned to such housing are required to follow strict rules, and in turn receive privileges that maximum-security inmates don’t received. They may also be eligible for outside work details, saving tax dollars.

It is time that Title 15 of the California Administrative Code be updated and reasonable standards put in place — standards that we can afford.

Arroyo Grande resident W. B. Honeycutt worked for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department for 35 years, including seven years as a jail manager.