Supervisors on Tuesday discussed potential changes at Blaine Street Women’s Jail in Santa Cruz. (Stephen Baxter — Santa Cruz Local)

SANTA CRUZ >> To reduce the impact of incarceration on families and improve outcomes for women in County Jail and probation, an advisory group presented several recommendations to county supervisors on Tuesday.

The recommendations included the creation of a permanent advisory Commission on Justice and Gender to expand the scope of the county’s Domestic Violence Commission. 

Other recommendations were to:

  • Consider a pre-trial program for women who are primary caregivers of children to reduce the impact of women’s incarceration on children
  • Consider the creation of a women’s court in the county 
  • Direct the Sheriff’s Office, County Probation and Monarch Services to work together to find temporary housing for women released from jail
  • Provide more access to methadone and other detoxification treatments County Jail
  • Separate data by gender in County Probation, County Jail and county health services
  • Expand a “restorative justice” youth program that brings those harmed by crime or conflict into communication with those responsible for the harm to find a path forward.

The recommendations are the culmination of two years of work with leaders from service provider groups, the District Attorney’s Office, public defenders, domestic violence survivors, educators, county leaders and others. In part, it aimed to improve outcomes for women accused of crimes, as well as for families who have been victims of domestic violence.

The supervisors voted unanimously in support of the recommendations. Leaders from the group said they hoped to oversee the potential changes with a new Commission on Justice and Gender to replace and expand the Domestic Violence Commission. Commissions advise the board of supervisors. 

Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart and Probation Chief Fernando Giraldo said Tuesday that they support the group’s recommendations. The Sheriff’s Office already has put out a request for proposals for a three-year contract to provide “medically assisted” drug treatment in County Jail, Hart said.

The use of methadone or other detoxification drugs and medical attention in jail could save lives, advocates said. 

“Individuals released from jail are some of the most likely to overdose,” said Amanda Engeldrum Magana, director of medication assisted treatment at Janus of Santa Cruz. “Studies indicate that in the two weeks post release from jail, individuals are anywhere from 40 to 129 times more likely to die from a drug overdose than the general population.” 

A 23-year-old from Live Oak, Krista DeLuca, died in County Jail in 2015 from symptoms related to heroin withdrawal four days after she was was arrested on suspicion of being under the influence of drugs, authorities said. Her case and two other detox-related deaths in jail from 2012 to 2015 helped launch a civil grand jury inquiry into jail deaths during detoxification. 

Public defenders and prosecutors at Tuesday’s meeting also advocated for a women’s court for women accused of nonviolent crimes who are primary caregivers and who meet other criteria under a new state law. Judges in a women’s court potentially could consider family situations prior to pleas and sentencing. 

“Many of the children of incarcerated parents experience physical trauma, behavioral problems, economic instability and many times, homelessness,” said Tara George, chief deputy of the District Attorney’s Office. 

Alyssa Thompson, a Santa Cruz County public defender, also said she supported changes to domestic violence sentencing. She mentioned a case in which a woman paid for her husband’s domestic violence classes. Her husband couldn’t pay because he lost his job when his boss learned of the domestic violence charges. 


Supervisors approve Climate Action Manager position

Supervisors on Tuesday approved a new climate action manager position to “lead and coordinate efforts aimed at reducing emissions and greenhouse gases and preparing the county for climate change adaptation.” 

The manager advances initiatives and programs in the county’s Climate Action Strategy and Sustainability General Plan. Grant writing, project management and stakeholder facilitation will be the person’s main duties. The annual salary starts at $103,727 which is in line with other county managers.

Supervisor John Leopold said at the meeting that state leaders are considering a climate-change related “resiliency” bond for the November ballot. “We have to have a person to direct these funds,” Leopold said. “Being ahead of the curve will benefit us.”

Supervisor Bruce McPherson also said he supported the new position. The board unanimously voted in favor of it.

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Stephen Baxter is a co-founder and editor of Santa Cruz Local. He covers Santa Cruz County government.