Stop San Mateo Jail

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Fact Sheets about the Fight in San Mateo

10 Razones Para Luchar En Contra De La Nueva Carcel En San Mateo

10 Alternativas A La Construccion De La Nueva Carcel En El Condado De San Mateo

10 Alternative to a New SMC Jail

10 Reasons to Fight the SMC jail

jail tax flyer

Info about SMC Jail Front

Info about SMC Jail Back


San Mateo Action:



February 1, 2013

San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board
1515 Clay Street
Oakland, CA 94612
State of California
Department of Toxic Substances Control Headquarters
P.O. Box 806
Sacramento, CA 95812-0806

To Whom It May Concern:

We oppose the construction of a new jail in San Mateo County.  We believe that there are cheaper, more humane and more sustainable alternatives to incarceration that could lock less people up, reduce the current jail population and build stronger and healthier families and neighborhoods in our county.

Jails are socially, economically and environmentally costly, and low-income communities of color pay the highest costs.  Black people make up 24% of San Mateo’s jail population even though they represent only 3% of the county’s population. Similarly, Latinos constitute 35% of the jail population, but only 26% of the county’s population. These same communities suffer the highest rates of unemployment, poverty, health problems, environmental pollution, inadequate housing, disenfranchisement, and lack of access to education.

The proposed jail is an environmental justice issue. The Board of Supervisors claims that this will be a “green jail” because it will be LEED certified.  Yet this same jail is sited on land so toxic that the Department of Toxic Substances Control issued a covenant in 1990 declaring that it couldn’t be used for residential use. That covenant hasn’t been lifted and the county’s remediation plan does not include a Human Health Risk Assessment which measures all of the potential exposure to harmful chemicals that people in the jail would face.  This is a clear example of environmental racism. Communities of color are disproportionately exposed to severe and harmful pollution in places where they are expected to live.

No amount of solar panels, water conserving toilets, or recycled furniture can hide the truth about jail construction: building new jails and locking people up is not good for anyone’s environment–particularly those people locked up inside.

In addition to the specific harms associated with housing people on contaminated land, enormous amounts of research and the testimony of scholars, policy analysts, criminal justice experts, social and health workers, and current and former prisoners show that imprisonment is bad for mental, physical, family, and community health.  As one study puts it, “The incarceration experience often contributes to a downward cycle of economic dependence, social isolation, substance abuse, and other physical and mental health problems.”[1]  In contrast, alternatives that reduce the jail population–such as drug treatment, mental health support, affordable housing, education and job placement–interrupt these cycles and build healthier communities.

These alternatives are clear, concrete, and can be implemented almost immediately. A report from the San Mateo County Manager[2] outlines alternatives recommended by the County’s Health System, including expanding short-term residential treatment for mental illness or drug detox, expanding the number of people served through alternative sentencing, expanding successful mental health programs, and expanding re-entry services.  The Health System’s detailed recommendations would take only 3-6 months to get up and running, serve 2,100 residents and cost the county $8.38 million a year.  By comparison, the new jail would not open until 2015 and will cost $160 million to build and at least $30 million a year to operate. The same report states:

Approximately 35-40% of the adults in custody in San Mateo County have significant enough mental illness that they are on Correctional Health’s caseload…The research evidence is strong that despite the best treatment that can be provided while people are in custody, people with mental illness do not get better in institutions, particularly in jails, which tend to be difficult even for people without mental illness.

Over the last year, thousands of people, many of whom have had their families harmed by imprisonment, have voiced deep concern about construction of a new jail. We join them in urging you to enact sustainable solutions to the real problems our communities face and immediately cancel this toxic jail project.


Ron Ahnen, California Prison Focus

Hafsah Al-Amin, California Coalition for Women Prisoners

Bradley Angel, Green Action for Health and Environmental Justice

Vanessa Aramayo, California Partnership

Pat Aties, Campaign to End the Death Penalty

Fanya Baruti, All of Us or None – Southern California

Morgan Bassichis, Community United Against Violence

Elizabeth Blaney, Union de Vecinos

Gail Brown, Life Support Alliance

Barbara Brooks, Sentencing and Justice Reform Advocacy

Susan Burton, A New Way of Life Reentry Project

Dolores Canales, California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement

Katina Castillo, Community Justice Network for Youth

Manuel Criollo, Labor/Community Strategy Center

Kim Carter, Time for Change Foundation

Amanda Scheper, Justice Now

Orlando Chavez, United for Drug Policy Reform

Craig Courtney, Conservatives for Social Change

Patrisse Cullors Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in L.A. Jails

Charli Eaton, Grandmothers of the Light

Tommy Escarcega, Projecto Common Touch

Caroline Farrell, Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment

Frank Fontes III, California Prison Moratorium Project – Fresno

Amanda Garces, Enlace

George Galvis, Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice

Ruth Wilson Gilmore, the Graduate Center, CUNY

Paul George, Director, Peninsula Peace and Justice Center

Margie Ghiz, Art Release

Stephen Gutwillig, Drug Policy Alliance

LeaJay Harper, Center for Young Women’s Development

Emily Harris, Californians United for a Responsible Budget

Kenneth Hartman, The Other Death Penalty Project

Allen Hopper, ACLU of Northern California

Dolores Huerta, The Dolores Huerta Foundation

Angie Junck, Immigrant Legal Resource Center

Gloria Killian, Action Committee on Women in Prison

Manuel La Fontaine, All of Us or None

Jim Lindburg, Friends Committee on Legislation California

Liz Lozano, Juvenile Offenders Committee (JOC) – California Central Women’s Facility

Laura Magnani, America Friends Service Committee

Nile Malloy, Communities for a Better Environment

Miss Major, Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex (TGI) Justice Project

Sharon Martinas, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

Marc Mauer, The Sentencing Project

Kim McGill, Youth Justice Coalition

Jacqueline Miller, Women for Change Foundation

Eli Moore, Pacific Institute

Marilyn Montenegro, CA Chapter NASW Women’s Council

Julia Negron, A New PATH LA – Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing

Vanessa Nelson, Life Support Alliance

Brandy Novak, California For Abolishing Solitary Confinement & CARES for Youth

Dorsey Nunn, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children

Reverend Julia Older, The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Redwood City

Savannah O’Neill, Berkeley Needle Exchange Emergency Distribution

Imelda Padilla, Pacoima Beautiful

Brent Plater, Wild Equity Institute

Sheila Pinkel, emeritus professor, Pomona College

Mary Ratcliff, San Francisco Bay View newspaper

Debbie Reyes, California Prison Moratorium Project

Renee Saucedo, La Raza Centro Legal

Bob Slakey

Leah Sakala, Prison Policy Initiative

Penny Schoner, Prison Activist Resource Center

Geri Silva, Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes

Deborah Small, National Lawyers Guild

Elizabeth Stewart, Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes – San Diego

Jesse Stout, Drug Policy Committee of the National Lawyers Guild

Mary Sutton, Critical Resistance – Los Angeles

Raphael Sperry, Architects / Designers / Planners for Social Responsibility

Diana Sylvestre, OASIS Clinic

Jimmie Thompson, Fair Chance Project

Nichola Torbett, Seminary of the Street

Mari Rose Taruc, Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN)

Anna Turner, Youth United for Community Action

Carole Urie, Returning Home Foundation

Amy Vanderwarker, California Environmental Justice Alliance

Sumayyah Waheed, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

Mailee Wang, Community Works West – Project WHAT!

Roger White, Critical Resistance

Clarissa Woo, American Civil Liberties Union of California


Central California Environmental Justice Network

Chuco’s Justice Center

Development Services

Dignity In Schools: Golden Gate School of Law Chapter

El Cerrito Democratic Club

Free LA Highschool

Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal

Interfaith Communities United for Peace and Justice

Iraq Veterans Against the War – San Francisco

Justice Policy Institute

Occupy for Prisoners

The Peninsula Interfaith Coalition on Immigration

Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles

Progressive Democrats of the Santa Monica Mountains

Quaker Friends – Santa Cruz


San Gabriel Valley Progressives

Silicon Valley De-Bug

Sisters of St. Joseph – Los Angeles

Southern California Library

Students for Sensible Drug Policy – National Board of Directors

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom – Santa Cruz

Youth Communist League of California







[1] Adverse Effects of US Jail and Prison Policies on the Health and Well-Being of Women of Color, Dr. Nicholas Freudenberg.  Distinguished Professor of Urban Public Health at Hunter College, City University of New York

[2] Responses to Jail Planning Questions. County of San Mateo Inter-Departmental Correspondence, County Manager’s Office. September 26,2011.