San Mateo County Residents Gather to Stop New Jail

For Immediate Release—August 24, 2012

Press Contact: Isaac Ontiveros, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, 510-517-6612

What:  Community Town Hall

When:  Saturday August 25, 2012, 1 – 4 pm

Where:  1796 Bay Road, East Palo Alto, CA 94303

East Palo Alto—This Saturday community members from across San Mateo County will hold a town hall with local experts and advocates to discuss how to stop a $160 million new jail from being built.  Calling for community-based solutions instead of jails, the event will bring together residents and grassroots organizations to talk about the impact of imprisonment on communities and on the county’s future.

“Who are the Supervisors building this jail for?  What good does it do for people in this county?”  asks Dorsey Nunn, Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and resident of Menlo Park. “If we look at who is currently in the jail, we know that San Mateo County’s most vulnerable residents get locked up instead of getting the jobs, education, healthcare or housing they need.”  African Americans constitute 3.34% of San Mateo County,  but represent 24% of jail population.  They also suffer the highest rates of unemployment.  Nunn continues,“Every penny we spend locking people up is taking away from funding for programs that build strong communities, keep people healthy and keep families together.  We’re hurting ourselves twice—breaking up communities with jails, and robbing resources from the services that actually keep us safe.”

Widespread opposition to the jail project has steadily mounted during the county’s budget crisis as $70 million in cuts have left hundreds unemployed and thousands with reduced access to vital services.  In a report commissioned by San Mateo County, the influential Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice noted a substantial dip in crime in the county and has recommended strongly against jail construction, instead advising reform of the “pretrial system, in addition to expanding and creating new pretrial service programs”. San Mateo County has been turned down multiple times for state funding for the jail.  County Supervisors have proposed a controversial new sales tax that lumps in jail funding with funding for other programs.

“This jail is fiscally, socially, morally and environmentally toxic,” says Manuel La Fontaine, Daly City resident and organizer with All of Us or None, an organization fighting against discrimination faced by people after being released from prison and jail.  “We have clear alternatives. Three quarters of the San Mateo jail population hasn’t gone to trial. Nearly half the people are in there simply because they can’t pay bail. Nearly sixty percent are in on drug and alcohol charges.  The County Supervisors could act now to reduce the jail population, they could close Women’s Correctional Center, but instead they’re planning a new jail that the county doesn’t want, doesn’t need, and can’t afford.“

While Sherriff Greg Munks has claimed the jail in necessary to handle of influx of prisoners coming from the state prison system due to Gov. Brown’s realignment program, San Mateo County is surrounded by counties that have decided to not expand their jail systems.  Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Francisco, and Alameda Counties have all decided to divert funds away from jail expansion and toward alternatives to imprisonment.

Saturday’s town hall will be held in East Palo Alto and will include performances, community testimony, and speakers connecting the jail to the county’s social and economic problems.

The event is organized by Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) member organizations and allies: All of Us or None, ACLU of Northern California, Architects / Designers / Planners / for Social Responsibility, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Critical Resistance, Justice Now, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and Occupy Redwood City.

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