Tuesday, October 4, 2011

OP-ED: Many reasons for new county jail

While I normally don't weigh in on the decisions of County agencies, the decision on the expansion of the San Mateo County jail has the potential to have huge consequences for residents of the City of San Mateo when it comes to public safety.  

For that reason, I wrote the following opinion piece in today's San Mateo Daily Journal, in response to an article written by San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine, opposing expansion of our current, out-dated county jail.  

I urge all residents to study the issue and let the Board of Supervisors know your opinion on this critical public safety issue.  As always, feel free to contact me if you'd like to discuss this or any other issue. 

OP-ED: Many reasons for new county jail
October 04, 2011, 01:03 AM By David Lim

Supervisor Dave Pine’s decision to oppose expansion of the new jail as proposed is commendable for keeping sight of today’s fiscal realities, but the consequences of not building an expanded jail big enough comes with long-term negative effects on public safety (“Time to rethink criminal justice in county” guest perspective in Oct. 3 edition).

Mr. Pine’s position for a smaller jail based on the ability to reduce the jail population through evidence-based programs to reduce recidivism misses one major point.

When the state Legislature passed Assembly Bill 109 and its companion bills, it fundamentally altered our criminal justice system in ways not seen in more than 100 years. The largest change is that a majority of felons not convicted of “non-violent,” “non-serious” and “non-sex-related” crimes will now be housed in county jails, not state prisons.

This realignment means that hundreds of new convicted felons will be the responsibility of local agencies such as the county of San Mateo.

Mr. Pine suggests a number of worthy programs that are part of the realignment to the criminal justice system, and I agree with him that we should explore those options. However, those programs in and by themselves will not reduce our need for a larger county jail.

For example, even when using more electronic monitoring as suggested by Mr. Pine, there will be a need for periods of incarceration. Upon conviction, an individual charged with a felony will have to be in custody for at least 60 days before being eligible for electronic monitoring. For misdemeanor defendants, the requirement is 30 days in custody.

Thus, even with the new services to reduce recidivism, the need for adequate housing for inmates will remain and even increase in some cases.

There are also possible unforeseen consequences of inadequate housing for inmates. Adequate housing is fundamental to the basic human dignity of those incarcerated. No matter what their crimes, inmates have a right to decent housing while serving their sentences. Failure to provide adequate housing over the long term could subject the county to expensive civil rights lawsuits from inmates and lead to early release of inmates before they are rehabilitated.

Supervisors Rose Jacobs Gibson and Don Horsley set the correct tone in their support for the expanded jail, and I urge Mr. Pine to follow their lead.

Supervisor Gibson has years of experience working to reduce violent crime while a member of the East Palo Alto City Council, and her suggestion to use the expanded space at the new jail to provide alternative services to reduce recidivism are laudable.

Supervisor Horsley has more than 30 years in law enforcement, and was instrumental in ushering in modernization of our county correctional system while serving as our San Mateo County sheriff. We should rely on his expertise and listen to his guidance.

Ultimately, if the county fails to adequately provide for the incarceration of county inmates in the future, it is local communities who will suffer.

Releasing inmates due to lack of space remains a serious concern in our community without an expanded jail. If that happens, it will fall to city police agencies and local city councils to increase their funding in public safety to keep our neighborhoods safe.

I urge Mr. Pine and the rest of the Board of Supervisors to support the expansion of the new jail. The short-term investment will be tough now, but will pay dividends in public safety for years to come.  

David Lim is a member of the San Mateo City Council and works as a deputy district attorney for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. This guest perspective represents the viewpoint of Lim, and is not the official viewpoint of the city of San Mateo.

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