Every time the Santa Barbara County jails get critiqued, Sheriff Bill Brown is ready with one of his classics: We need more money. 

He’s uttered an iteration of that line more times than I can count. With any whiff of constructive criticism, Brown’s armed and ready with his defenses. The county jail is short-staffed, has inadequate infrastructure, and is restrained by underfunding. 

We don’t even need him to speak anymore. We already know what he’s going to say. 

“Many in our own sectors are passionate about what we do and want to get adequate funding, but it boils down to what is the ability of the county to fund certain things and what are the priorities of the elected Board of Supervisors,” Brown said. 

He threw shade at the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors during a recent special meeting discussing jail health care—it came on the heels of a March presentation that revealed more than 1,600 complaints were filed by county inmates last year and the year before, a more than 600-complaint increase over 2021.

“Significant trends,” according to the staff report, were an increase in the number of complaints filed related to access to care, medications, medication-assisted treatment, mental health, and dental care. Many at the jail health discussion stressed a need for improvement.

Don’t worry! I guess we can fix the problem by throwing more money at it? That always works.

The Northern Branch Jail—Brown’s $120 million answer to the county’s correction system conundrums like overcrowding at the Main Jail and a lack of mental health treatment beds and outpatient hospital beds in the jail—was finally finished and opened for business in 2022. The county jail has expanded the number of beds available to inmates, added behavioral health units to facilitate things like counseling, and made space for inmates to receive services like telehealth.

However, complaints from inmates have increased since then. So, I’m not so sure money is the answer. 

Besides, there’s no more money for the county to pull out of its general fund cap! According to the recent budget workshops, Santa Barbara County needs to make do with what it’s currently got going on. 

“I’m not recommending any ongoing expansions from the general fund and not recommending one-time expansions beyond our recommended list at this time unless there are savings, reductions, or new revenue to pay for it,” County CEO Mona Miyasato told supervisors during a recent budget hearing.

Some county departments are in for a little extra hurt thanks to some new state laws, such as Proposition 1, which voters narrowly passed in March. Santa Barbara County Behavioral Wellness could lose 30 percent of its funding for some programs and experience a 58 percent increase in the number of clients it serves. 

Lack of funding will definitely constrain the department, as it attempts to revamp the way it provides services to the most vulnerable in the county. But it doesn’t sound like BWell’s director is complaining. 

“The double-edged sword is we have a lot of changes to make and things to do. We’re pedaling faster, and across the state we are working collaboratively and doing a good job of identifying what works,” Behavioral Wellness Director Toni Navarro said.

The Canary knows money doesn’t solve everything. Send some to [email protected].

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