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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on September 27th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 30 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 30

County Jail to offer ride program services soon

By KASEY BUBNASH

Nearly nine months after Santa Barbara County’s jail ride program came to an unannounced end in January, a new version of the old program is still not up and running as promised. But according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, progress is being made.

“We are close to finalizing a deal and will make an announcement when we do,” Sheriff’s Public Information Officer Kelly Hoover said. Still, the exact date the program will be running again is somewhat unclear.

The original program, which was created in 2009 by activist and founder of the Committee for Social Justice, Peter Marin, was funded completely by private donors before it was passed along to the Sheriff’s Office in 2014. Rock Star Transportation, a limousine company that has since gone out of business, was contracted by the Sheriff’s Office to pick up people released from jail late at night, when public transportation is no longer an option.

That was when most people released from the Santa Barbara County Jail—located about 7 miles from downtown Santa Barbara—were residents of areas surrounding Santa Barbara. The situation has only become more pressing since Santa Maria’s jail closed this year, Marin said, leaving North County residents without a holding facility of its own.

Now, many people arrested in North County are taken about 60 miles from their cities to the Santa Barbara County Jail, and often released late at night with no way to get back. Marin said it’s more important than ever that the jail ride program is running efficiently.

But when Rock Star Transportation shut down, the jail program went with it.

The Sheriff’s Office’s Chief Custody Deputy Vincent Wasilewski said the program is slated to restart in early to mid October. The Sheriff’s Office is reaching the end of negotiations with United Cab Company, Wasilewski said, which offers vans compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act for any mobility-impaired detainees being released at night.

United Cab is also locally run, Wasilewski said, has an entirely bilingual staff of drivers, and offers affordable prices, all factors that played a role in the jail’s choice to partner with the company.

The cabs will come at the request of the jail—rides will be paid for by the jail’s Inmate Welfare Fund, a percentage of money the jail keeps when an inmate buys something from the commissary—and take former detainees to the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission. Wasilewski said the Sheriff’s Office has been assured that no one will be turned away due to overcrowding or any other circumstances.

While the Sheriff’s Office is looking for other nonprofits and churches that might also want to be involved in the program as drop-off locations, President of the Rescue Mission Rolf Geyling said there is no other agency in South County that takes people on a walk-in basis.

Geyling said that for that reason, the Rescue mission has always happily worked with the county’s law enforcement and taken individuals with no place else to go. Geyling said the Mission’s major goal is to get people with addictions into treatment and out of cyclical incarceration.

“If we aren’t allowing people to get stable footing in our community, there is a pretty good chance they’ll end up in jail again,” Geyling said.

Deputy Wasilewski said the North County issue has also been addressed, although not entirely solved. A few months ago, arresting officers in North County had no choice but to individually drive their detainees to Santa Barbara County Jail. Now, North County detainees are taken to the Lompoc Police Department’s jail, which Wasilewski said is a Type 1 facility that can only hold inmates for 96 hours. North County inmates not released within that time frame are then taken by bus or van to the Santa Barbara County Jail, with no real way to return.

Still, the jail ride program should start back up once the jail’s purchase order to United Cab is finalized.

“It’s been challenging,” Wasilewski said. “I can’t say it wasn’t, otherwise it wouldn’t have taken this long.”

Cameron Schunk, district representative for 1st District Supervisor Das Williams, said Williams’ office has been working closely with the Sheriff’s Office on this issue for the past few months.

Schunk said that once the cab company and the Sheriff’s Office sign the drafted memorandum of understanding, which acts as a government contract, the jail ride program should run smoothly again. After that, Schunk said he and Williams hope to find a way to keep the rides going long-term.

“Our next step as an office is to just sort of look at how we can build in some safeguards so that the institutional memory here isn’t lost,” Schunk said. “Because I think in piecing it all together, sort of what happened is the taxi company stopped and there were some folks who worked at the jail who transitioned out. So there was this loss of, like I said, institutional memory about the program.”




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