Santa Clara Co. considers replacing old jail with mental health facility

Bay Area

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) The debate continues on replacing the old jail in Santa Clara County with a mental health facility.

At the Nov. 17 board meeting, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to continue talks on building a new mental health facility and acknowledging challenges in moving forward with the plan.

“This is the second time that this came to the board of supervisors, of course, there were some questions as there always would be whether or not the board of supervisors would continue to stay the course,” said Supervisor Dave Cortese.

“Fortunately, at least in my opinion, the board of supervisors did agree to stay the course and in fact accepted a motion that I made to direct the county administration to refrain from making any representation to any contractors in the near future relative to continuing to build that jail facility.”

Back in October, supervisors voted to stop construction on the decade-long plan to replace the now-demolished Main Jail South near downtown San Jose — instead focusing to address the mental health need.

Supervisors point to current jail population numbers as the perfect time to capitalize on the opportunity to address its community’s mental health needs. 

Due to COVID-19, populations are down to around 2,000 inmates in the county jail system, which is one-third of its usual capacity.

“We don’t need as much jail capacity based on the kind of numbers that we’ve seen that last couple of years, we’ve had a gradually declining population in the jails particularly in low-level offenders,” said Cortese.

“We have this growing need for mental health beds, for mental health services that involve somebody being in a place where they have a hold put on them, so they can’t leave until they’re stabilized, maybe that’s a couple of weeks.”

The challenge now comes with current contracting bids already set in place to build a new jail facility which county executives say could potentially be costly and take additional years to begin construction on a new mental health facility. 

The board’s vote on Nov. 17 aims to continue discussions on all the implications and processes it will take to build the new facility.

“We’re still in the path of no more jail and we’re definitely on the path of trying to figure out what’s the best way to entertain bids to really steer all those construction documents into the direction of a mental health facility,” said Cortese. 

“It’s costing the county about 520 million dollars a year to cycle people through the justice system … that means every three years that we leave the system the way it is it’s costing county taxpayers one and a half-billion dollars,” Cortese added. 

“I say let’s take that one and half billion and focus it on mental health treatment.”

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