Sue Frost

Should Sacramento County Build a New Jail or Let Inmates Out Early?

By: Supervisor Sue Frost

You may have seen some news recently about a controversial vote at the Board of Supervisors involving a debate between releasing more inmates and expanding the current jail facility. As we had an unprecedented amount of public input into this discussion, I feel compelled to use this opportunity in my monthly article to explain to you the details of what happened, and why I voted the way that I did.

Back in 2014, Sacramento County was notified by advocates about concerns regarding conditions of confinement in the jails. Then in 2019, a class action lawsuit against the County was filed to address those concerns. In 2020 a Federal Judge approved a court order (Consent Decree) resulting from the class action settlement. The concerns centered on medical care, mental health care, Americans with
Disability Act (ADA) and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance. As a result of this, the County was left with an open-ended question of how to proceed forward. The court order issued specific requirements within a timeline, but they allowed us flexibility in working within our budget and circumstances to satisfy the Consent Decree. They wanted to see that we were making a concerted effort, and our progress was monitored by Class Counsel to ensure progress.

Over the years, the board would routinely meet to discuss how we should proceed. I was regularly of the mindset that the best path forward was to make updates to the jail as opposed to simply releasing inmates – something that I have very negative views on due to the State utilizing this method to disastrous effect locally. However, every time this came up for a vote, to my great frustration, the only
people who would make public comments were those who did not want updates to the jail, and simply wanted inmates released – and a majority of the Board of Supervisors would vote to essentially kick the can down the road and defer action to a later meeting.

Fast forward to 2022, and the plaintiffs are justifiably getting frustrated at our lack of specific actions to satisfy their complaints. County legal staff have told us that if we do not act immediately, that we could risk being out of compliance and the Federal Government could come in and take over our ability to manage this issue. That would mean they make decisions with local taxpayer dollars without any input from the Board of Supervisors. This is not something that any of the Board of Supervisors were willing to allow to happen, and it forced us to finally take action earlier in December.

In the meeting on December 7th, our Board was presented with a variety of options for ways to solve this problem. They ranged from building an entirely new jail to adding a jail expansion building for mental health services, to releasing inmates into a variety of community programs, or some combination of the above. While I would possibly be supportive of building a new jail, from a financial
perspective we simply do not have the money needed to do this, and the impacts it would have on our budget to get a loan for the money we need would have extremely negative effects on other essential County services.

In the end, on December 8th the Board decided to do two main things. First, we agreed to build a jail expansion downtown specifically for mental health, medical services, and inmate intake. And secondly, we agreed with the county staff’s recommendations that give alternatives to incarceration for some low-level offenders. While I am not supportive of letting dangerous inmates out early, this was supported by the Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s Office, and I believe these programs serve a community benefit.

I am overjoyed that the Board of Supervisors finally made progress on solving these issues so we could begin to satisfy the consent decree. While there is still more work to be done, this is real progress that until this point has seen nothing but delays. I will keep you updated in the future as more progress is made, but this is a great start that is extremely needed.


Thank you for reading – and as always, if you want to contact me, call me at 916-874-5491, or e-mail me at SupervisorFrost@saccounty.net.

Sacramento County Supervisor Sue Frost represents the 4th District, which includes the communities of Citrus Heights, Folsom, Orangevale, Antelope, North Highlands, Rio Linda, Elverta, and Rancho Murrietta.

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