FAQ BOS Actions - Custodial Facilities Jan. 25, 2022

The District 3 Office has prepared the following FAQ, Frequently Asked Questions,  on the Board of Supervisor’s actions at the January 25, 2022 meeting to further clarify what was approved regarding our custodial facilities and carceral system.

What action did the Board of Supervisors take on January 25 related to the jail?

  • Reduce capacity of County jails
  • Demolish Main Jail North and portions of Elmwood
  • Develop a comprehensive treatment plan and continuum of care model for justice-involved clients by March 2022
  • Proceed with the redesign efforts to build a new facility for 500 clients based on the needs identified in the report and provide the scoping schedule for the Board of Supervisors to assure an appropriate design
  • Explore community services that reduce client contact with the criminal justice system and facilitate other options for jail diversion and reentry services
  • Inpatient and outpatient care in Santa Clara County to expand options for behavioral health treatment outside of jail, as well as exploring a facility like a deflection center.
  • Develop options for consideration to expand funding and service slots for outpatient and community-based mental health and substance use disorder treatment to be presented to the Board of Supervisors no later than April 2022.
  • Build a stand-alone mental health facility under the direction of the County Health System
  • Repurpose Elmwood for alternatives to incarceration
  • Adopt recommendations and next steps from Framework for County’s Justice Involved Clients
    • Develop a plan to decommission Main Jail North and older housing units at Elmwood to improve the living conditions for the County’s justice-involved clients
    • Minimize the need for incarceration
    • Expand behavioral health services


What is the County’s responsibility for providing custodial facilities?

  • There is no California statute that expressly requires that a county operate a jail. Although a county can choose not to operate a jail, it cannot legally prevent the courts from ordering people to be held in custody (either pretrial, after conviction, or for contempt).
  • Even where a county chooses not to operate its own jail, there will still be a need to hold people ordered into jail custody at some other jail.


What if we don’t have a jail?

  • The Board of Supervisors of the county with no jail may enter an agreement with a nearby county to hold a subset of their justice involved community members (this subset does NOT include people convicted of felonies or being held pretrial). The county without the jail must bear the cost of this agreement.
  • Two or more counties could form a district for the purposes of establishing and operating a joint county jail to serve member counties.
  • A superior court judge may issue an order designating the jail of a contiguous county for the confinement of any prisoner of the county in which the court is located. The County without the jail must bear the cost.


Why is the County of Santa Clara even considering the construction of new custodial facilities?

  • Consent decrees cite a myriad of confinement and ADA issues that make current facilities inhumane for incarceration.
  • Our current jails are antiquated and falling apart. They are not up to code, nor are they seismically safe. They are not humane and need to be replaced as soon as possible.
  • The current facility does not allow inmates the physical layout and structure to provide adequate out of cell time and programs, classes, and treatment. 


Why can’t we just renovate existing jail facilities instead of building a new facility?

  • Renovation will cost more than a new facility.
  • There is no facility to move inmates to during renovations.
  • There is no way to improve/redesign the current physical structure to provide out of cell time or any other programs (recreational time, mental health services, etc.) 


How will the new facility be funded?

  • The Finance Agency plans to issue tax-exempt lease revenue bonds to finance the construction of the new facility.
    • Normally with lease revenue financing, the County would pledge the building that is being acquired or constructed as collateral for the bonds.
  • Benefits of this approach: the County would pledge the jail for the County’s own bonds, which would leave other assets (County buildings) available for a future financing for other County construction projects.
    • Having this flexibility in the County’s bonding capacity is important for the County’s future operations.
  • Renovations to current jail facilities would require use of the County’s General Fund.


What is the current status of the Elmwood Correctional Facility in Milpitas?

  • Elmwood is an aging, dilapidated facility. 
  • Recommended repair/maintenance cost frequently approached or equaled replacement costs.
  • Through the consultant team’s observations as well as comments made during the stakeholder interviews, a significant number of buildings were identified as either
    • 1) functionally obsolete and/or
    • 2) desirable to demolish and/or replace.

And how will this site be utilized moving forward?

  • As per the vote on January 25, a portion of Elmwood will be demolished. In its stead the focus will be to create spaces designed for rehabilitation, recovery, and education, with the goal of creating an environment and services conducive to program participation.
    • Expand and improve educational and vocational programs to achieve 40% participation across the system over the next 5-years and provide the program space needed to enhance program offerings.


How will the new facility address the issues raised by the consent decrees?

  • Will address ADA/seismic requirements
  • Provide open space for recreation, treatment, programs, and out of cell time
  • Mental health services- acute and step-down units for males and females
  • Planned for Vision, Dental, and some outpatient services
  • Custody Staff Training Room
  • Inmate Contact Visiting Areas
    • Areas will be designed to support physical contact visits and participation in programs designed to unite children with their parents.
  • Shared space for other programming
    • Inmate Chaplaincy Staff and Volunteers
    • Classrooms and contractors to provide programs such as parenting classes
    • Reentry Eligibility Workers
    • Other Community Based Organizations volunteers or contractors to perform re-entry related work with the inmate population.


Why do we need jails?/Why can’t we just release those in custody with monitoring?

  • Even with increased diversion, reduced bail, and other pre-trial efforts, our prosecutors will continue to argue for, and our Courts will continue to send people to jail.
  • County has an obligation to provide adequate facilities for those ordered to serve jail time and to protect the community from violent criminals.
  • County cannot prevent the criminal courts from ordering appropriate individuals to be held in jail custody.


How did the Board’s action reduce jail capacity?

  • Moves forward with a plan to demolish the 835-bed Mail Jail North and portions of Elmwood Jail, reducing jail capacity by at least 300 beds (new facility has capacity of 500) with a long-term goal of reducing more beds.
  • Enhance existing programs that release any appropriate individuals currently in jail custody, either in pretrial status or sentenced status.
  • Work with the District Attorney’s Office and Courts on reduction of jail time. 
  • Working with all public safety and justice partners on lowering the number of new bookings into the jail through diversion and other programs, thereby resulting in a slower but longer-term population reduction.


How does the Board’s action expand alternatives to incarceration?

  • Expands behavioral health treatment options.
  • The Office of Pretrial Services has a 24/7 unit in Main Jail where officers interview all defendants booked on misdemeanor, felony-on-view, and arrest warrant charges for the purpose of recommending those pretrial detainees who can be released from custody safely.
  • Direction to explore options like a Deflection Center to help high frequency “in and out” mental health clients from being booked into jail.
  • Expansion of alternate forms detention and/or electronic monitoring.
  • Working in partnership with the District Attorney, criminal defense agencies, and the Superior Court, examine methods for expediting criminal trials and sentencing.


How else is the Board making changes to the system? (list not exhaustive, but intended to be demonstrative)


By building another jail, won’t we be increasing our justice involved population? Will the mantra of “If you build them, they’ll fill them” not be true?

  • The mantra is often true, if a jail is being built in addition to what already exists. The vote on January 25 moved forward with a plan to reduce the overall capacity of County jail, to demolish Main Jail North and portions of Elmwood, and to develop a comprehensive treatment plan and continuum of care model for justice-involved clients, that will ultimately lead more people out of the carceral setting and into treatment settings.
  • A full jail in this case would be over 300-less clients than where we currently stand.


What are the next steps?

  • Administration will come back to the Board with a plan to demolish Main Jail North and portions of Elmwood
  • Administration will come back with a plan to develop a comprehensive treatment plan and continuum of care model for justice-involved clients (March 2022)
  • Expansion or new detention and/or electronic monitoring
  • Administration to report back to the Board of Supervisors on redesign efforts to build a new facility for 500 maximum security clients, complete with a schedule and scope of work.
  • Plans for a new stand-alone mental health facility under the direction of the County health system (May 2022 for possible inclusion in the budget workshops).
  • Construction and addition of non-carceral facilities for inpatient and outpatient care in Santa Clara County to expand options for behavioral health treatment outside of jail (April 2022).
  • Expand funding and service slots for outpatient and community-based mental health and substance use disorder treatment (April 2022).
  • Special Public Safety and Justice Committee meetings designed to develop implementation plans around community-based alternatives to incarceration.


Click HERE to read Supervisor Otto Lee's January 26, 2022 Press Release: Statement On Future Of County's Custodial Facilities and Correctional System


Please contact us at [email protected] for any additional questions - Thank you.

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