Step one to reduce recidivism in Santa Barbara County: stop banning letters from home
by Leah Sakala, August 28, 2013
A new Santa Maria Times article reports that the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors are exploring a potential solution to the decades-old problem of overcrowding in the local jail. The county is considering studying the impact of allowing private investors to finance social service programs, with an eye towards reducing recidivism and therefore government expenditures.
While I certainly support the Supervisors’ creative long-term efforts to reduce recidivism, Santa Barbara County is missing a simple and more immediate opportunity to keep people from returning to jail: stop banning families from writing letters to incarcerated loved ones.
When Sheriff Brown started banning letters from home earlier this year, he apparently ignored the significant body of social science research that says that one of the most effective ways to help incarcerated people succeed when they return home is to allow them to preserve family ties. He also ignored the best practices on correspondence touted by major professional organizations such as the American Correctional association, the American Jail Association, and the American Bar Association, government bodies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and regulatory agencies such as the Texas Association on Jail Standards.
In March, when the Santa Barbara County letter ban was first announced, more than 50 national criminal justice and civil rights organizations submitted a letter to Sheriff Brown urging him to cancel the ban. But a child in Santa Barbara is still currently prohibited from writing a letter or sending a drawing to an incarcerated parent.
Working with Sheriff Brown to end the jail’s ban on letters from home is a simple and evidence-based step that the Board of Supervisors can take today to keep Santa Barbara’s community safe and families intact.