Local News

Jun 5, 2010 12:20 AM by Ariel Wesler

Budget cuts could close county jail in Santa Maria

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department could shut down the Santa Maria jail to help balance the budget.

The North County jail is located off Foster Road in Santa Maria. Shutting it down could save the county more than a million dollars. Without that jail, the C-H-P, Guadalupe Police Department, and Santa Maria Police Department would have to book inmates in Goleta.
They say that would drive up costs and temporarily take officers off patrol.

Closing the county jail in Santa Maria could mean a lot more driving for law enforcement agencies in the Santa Maria Valley.

"We don't have the staffing for it. We don't have the vans, the cars that would be required, so we would have to build a program from scratch," said Lt. Dan Ast. with the Santa Maria Police Department.

A program he says would cost millions to set up. Officers say they already book roughly 10 people per day in the North County jail but could soon have nowhere to put them--severely impacting public safety.

Reporter: Would you have to take officers off the streets to transport these inmates down to Santa Barbara?

Ast: "We would."

It would also mean temporarily dissolving the narcotics and gang units so officers can drive the 140 miles round trip to book inmates at the main jail.

If the Santa Maria Police Department can't afford to setup a transportation system, it says another option would be not to book as many inmates, which means those that would normally end up here, would remain on the streets.

"We have people that are sex registrants right now, and while that is a signficant violation. . .we would probably take those types of cases and just do them in complaint form, sending a report to the district attorney's office," Ast said.

The Lompoc Police Department currently has its own jail, but Santa Maria Police only have a holding cell and a bar to handcuff alleged criminals. Back in February, supervisor Joe Centeno made his thoughts clear.

"To shut down the Santa Maria Jail, that's uncalled for," Centeno said.

Monday, the rest of the board will express theirs.

No decisions have been made. Sheriff Bill Brown will not comment on the possible closure until after he makes his budget presentation Monday to the board of supervisors.

The Santa Maria Jail can hold more than 40 inmates. The sheriff's department says closing the jail would not likely mean layoffs.

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