Opinion: County should build mental health center, not new jail

You need look no further than the Michael Hogan tragedy to see the need for a mental health/wellness center to be constructed in lieu of a new jail facility in Santa Clara County. I wholeheartedly agree with Supervisor Susan Ellenberg, who expressed her misgivings about the document county executive staff recently submitted to the Board of Supervisors.

The report, which advocated a new 535-bed facility to replace the Main Jail South is a slap in the face to community groups and civil rights advocates who met with elected officials just last year to promote a treatment center for people with mental health issues and those who struggle with alcohol and drug use disorders.

Tackling the problem of recidivism is one of the main tenants in my campaign for sheriff.  Our jails need to be about more than housing people for a period of time and then sending them back to the same situation.  We need social workers and counseling available to inmates, as well as education and job placement opportunities. Mental health is a key part of this.  We need to establish and fund a program that links law enforcement and social and medical services.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, close to a third of California’s incarcerated residents have a documented serious mental illness. Many would agree that prisons and jails in our state have become default mental health institutions.

There are hundreds and hundreds of residents in county jails across California who wait months or even years to be transferred to a state hospital.

According to the California Department of State Hospitals, a large percentage of the residents who were found incompetent to stand trial were facing charges related to homelessness and untreated psychosis.

A new behavioral health facility in Santa Clara County is not only necessary, but also long overdue. Furthermore, I think it should not be built near the Main Jail, but at our Elmwood facility. Once a normal baseline is achieved, the residents in this facility can become part of the job placement and training programs available to other residents.

In addition, having a new wellness facility would also benefit every Santa Clara County resident. A 2018 study showed that providing more access to mental health treatment programs makes entire communities better off and is more cost-effective.  More mental health treatment will reduce violence and property crimes and in turn could lower incarceration rates.

As sheriff, I would of course like to manage a new jail.  However, I have pledged to be honest with the public.  Santa Clara County needs a new mental health facility a lot more than a new jail.

I urge our politicians to reject the new jail proposal and support the alternative proposal supporting a mental health facility.

Christine Nagaye is a sergeant in the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office. She is a candidate for sheriff.

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