Santa Clara County goes away from new jail plans

Bay Area

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) — In an effort by Santa Clara County to provide much-needed treatment services for mentally ill inmates in the county system, construction for the new jail facility in San Jose has been suspended as county supervisors are considering building a mental health treatment center instead. 

The Santa Clara Board of Supervisors unanimously approved Supervisor Dave Cortese’s request that construction of the new jail facility replacing the old Main Jail South be suspended — the board agreed to a potential mental health treatment center that would be overseen by the Public Health Department and staffed by the County’s Behavioral Health Department. 

“It’s heartbreaking for everyone involved, people are getting in trouble … let’s bring them to a place where they can be stabilized where they can get treatment, where they can live and turn over a new leaf,” said Cortese. 

“We’re just putting our police officers in a bad spot, I think.”

Initially — the request came in August by Cortese from administration on replacement of the Main Jail South and requested for options that would designate the new Main Jail South as a Behavioral Health Center to house inmates with severe mental health needs. 

Cortese says it would not be wise to go forward with the original plan of a new jail facility and to shift that focus on rehabilitation instead of incarceration. 

Now county administration will be tasked to do the following by Nov. 17:

  • Suspend RFP actions for the replacement Main Jail South facility under its current scope of work until the Board can provide new direction.
  • Return to the Board on November 17 with information on the existing inmate population, where they are housed, the number of inmates with diagnosed mental health illnesses, the number of inmates that could be best served through outpatient or residential treatment or permanent supportive housing, and how many would still need to be housed in a more restrictive setting.
  • Provide a report on inmate population projections between now and the next five years, and evaluate the success of having an estimated 1,000 in-custody inmates released back into the community under supervision in response to COVID-19.

“I think it can happen quickly, I think November 17th can be a watershed day for the county and hopefully make us a national leader in terms of what counties should do,” said Cortese. 

“Stop building incarceration facilities when half of your jail population is there because of clinical mental health diagnosis.”

In addition, Cortese established a Blue Ribbon Commission to assess custody operations after the 2018 death of Micahel Tyree at the hands of three former Santa Clara County correctional officers. 

“Frankly, I’d love to see it called the Michael Tyree Treatment center.”

“The idea being not to memorialize that event but to give everyone the idea … we need to deal with mental health inmates not as inmates but as medical situations that need medical response not criminal response.”

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