Supervisor Ellenberg Proposes Alternatives to Incarceration Over New Jail

Supervisor Ellenberg Proposes Alternatives to Incarceration Over New Jail

Santa Clara County, Calif. – County of Santa Clara District 4 Supervisor Susan Ellenberg will present a referral during the Jan. 25 Board of Supervisors meeting to reject the construction of a new jail and establish more comprehensive behavioral health care and expand alternatives to pre-trial incarceration.

“The time is now to reject a new jail and make a definitive commitment to solutions that are more effective, less expensive, and make our communities safe,” said Ellenberg. “The current system has failed and we need to stop funding failure.”

The referral sets an outline to improve public safety while working toward a system that creates options for mental health and substance use treatment. At present, the use of jail facilities disproportionately impacts people of color, those who are poor, unhoused individuals, LGBTQ+ and those who are mentally ill while not improving public safety. 

“Unless we work to change the structures and systems that disproportionately impact our most underserved, we can never truly address the root causes of poverty, violence as well as the fundamental racial inequities embedded in our criminal justice system,” said Senator Dave Cortese. “By seizing this opportunity to provide alternatives to incarceration, Santa Clara County can build trust in our community and truly move to a rehabilitative system of justice.”

The County Executive’s community engagement process indicated strong public support for changes in the criminal-legal system. This work is consistent with statewide efforts —Los Angeles County, San Francisco County, Alameda County, San Diego County, and Sacramento County have already begun investing in alternatives to incarceration. 

“By design, incarceration promotes premature mortality, exacerbates mental illness and addiction, and places socially and medically vulnerable individuals at heightened risk,” said Dr. Marce Abare, Medical Director, Reentry Resource Center Mobile Medical Unit of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. “My patients need housing and high-quality mental health and substance use treatment—not a new jail.”

“The community has overwhelming spoken to no new jail and have demanded alternatives,” said Benee Vejar, a community organizer with Silicon Valley De-Bug. “We already have three jails and the money to fix what we have, give alternatives to incarceration a real chance, and have meaningful discussion on what is really needed.”

The board referral – item 13 of the Jan. 25 Board of Supervisor’s meeting – follows Supervisors’ Ellenberg and Otto Lee’s referral on Jan. 11, which declared mental health and substance abuse as a public health crisis and received a unanimous vote. 

“For almost a decade, I have witnessed firsthand how many people in this vulnerable population slip through the cracks in Santa Clara County,” said Jennifer Hughes, psychiatric nurse and Vice President of the Registered Nurses Professional Association. “It is very hard to get hospitalized due to the lack of in-patient psychiatric beds in the county. If they are hospitalized, when they get discharged there are not enough behavioral health facilities for them to go to where they will be set up for success. Often, they end up being homeless where they use illegal drugs to cope. This is a vicious cycle that needs to stop.”  

District 4 includes the cities of Campbell and Santa Clara, the unincorporated pockets of Burbank and West San Jose. For more information about Supervisor Ellenberg’s office, visit  


Contact: Michael Norris [email protected]


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