County of Santa Cruz

SANTA CRUZ—The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved a slew of proposed changes to the county’s justice system recommended by the Justice and Gender Task Force, a large coalition of lawmakers, public service and nonprofit directors, law enforcement officials and previously incarcerated women.

The task force, created in 2017 to better address the needs of incarcerated women, laid out an ambitious eight-task plan aimed at stopping the cycle it says many fall into while wading their way through the criminal justice system.

Chief among those tasks is rebranding the Domestic Violence Commission as the Commission on Justice and Gender, which will oversee the county’s implementation of the task force’s recommendations and advocate for the rights of incarcerated women.

The creation of that commission will need board approval at a future meeting.

The task force was formed in response to a report from Dr. Susan Greene, Gender Matters: A Profile of Women in Santa Cruz County Jail. That report, which garnered support from the Sheriff’s Office, interviewed 31 women at Main Jail and the Blaine Street Women’s Facility and found that a majority of the interviewees had a parent who had been incarcerated and that nearly three out of four were mothers.

Led by Greene, the 19-member Task Force met 18 times over two years in a multitude of venues and formats. Those gatherings helped the task force build its list of recommendations that hope to address several deficiencies in the county’s substance abuse treatment, release process, court rooms, reduction of domestic violence and prevention of incarceration. 

Approved recommendations include:

• Developing a pilot program to provide medication-assisted treatment while in custody.

• Have the Sheriff’s Office and Probation Department work with Monarch Services to develop a safer release process in order to reduce the amount of women who are released from jail with no place to go.

• The creation of a gender-specific courtroom in which the judge, prosecutor, public defender, probation officer and bailiff are all women. 

• With the help of Court Appointed Special Advocates, consider creating a pretrial diversion program based on Senate Bill 394 for parents who are primary caregivers for children. 

• Have the Probation Department conduct a survey on the effectiveness of an Alternative Domestic Violence pilot program under Assembly Bill 372, and relay its results to the board by the end of 2020.

• Have the Sheriff’s Office, County Office of Education and Probation Department use a “restorative justice” approach with attention to gender differences. The approach has been successful at Sequoia High School in Watsonville as part of the Comprehensive School Safety Program.

• Develop methods to desegregate data by gender across all departments—including probation, corrections, health services and the courts—and report back to the board by August.

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Tony Nuñez is a longtime member of the Watsonville community who served as Sports Editor of The Pajaronian for five years and three years as Managing Editor. He is a Watsonville High, Cabrillo College and San Jose State University alumnus.


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