The county must build a mental health center, not a new prison

Look no further than the Michael Hogan tragedy to see the need for a mental health / wellness center to be built instead of a new prison in Santa Clara County. I wholeheartedly agree with Supervisor Susan Ellenberg, who expressed her concerns about the document recently presented by the County Administrative Board to the Supervisory Board.

The report, which advocated a new 535-bed facility to replace Main Jail South, is a slap in the face to community groups and civil rights activists who met with elected officials last year to promote a treatment center for people with mental health problems and those struggling with alcohol and drug abuse disorders.

Tackling the recidivism problem is one of the main tenets of my sheriff’s campaign. Our prisons need to be about more than housing people for a period of time and then sending them back to the same situation. We need social workers and counseling available to the inmates, as well as training and job placement opportunities. Mental health is a key part of this. We need to establish and fund a program linking law enforcement and social and medical services.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, close to a third of California’s incarcerated residents have a documented serious mental illness. Many agree that prisons and prisons in our state have become standard institutions of mental health.

There are hundreds and hundreds of residents of county prisons across California waiting months or even years to be transferred to a state hospital.

According to the California Department of State Hospitals, a large percentage of residents who were found incompetent to stand trial stood accused of homelessness and untreated psychosis.

A new behavioral health facility in Santa Clara County is not only necessary, but also long awaited. Furthermore, I believe it should not be built near Main Jail, but at our Elmwood facility. Once a normal baseline is reached, the residents of this facility can become part of the job placement and training programs available to other residents.

In addition, having a new wellness facility will also benefit every resident of Santa Clara County. A study from 2018 showed that providing more access to treatment programs for mental health makes entire communities better off and is more cost-effective. More mental health care will reduce violence and property crimes and may in turn lower the jail rate.

As sheriff, of course, I would like to run a new prison. However, I have promised to be honest with the public. Santa Clara County needs a new mental health facility much more than a new prison.

I urge our politicians to reject the new prison proposal and support the alternative proposal that supports a psychiatric facility.

Christine Nagaye is a sergeant in the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office. She’s a candidate for sheriff.

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