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Dozens Protest Plan for New Santa Clara County Main Jail

SAN JOSE (KPIX) -- Roughly three dozen protesters gathered outside the Santa Clara County Main Jail Friday afternoon to demand a "shutdown" of plans for the new jail and the sheriff that oversees the facility.

"Repurpose those funds back into the community," said Tina Brown who told the crowd her son is incarcerated in the main jail.

The protesters are demanding that funds to build a new jail go toward mental health and community resources instead, including parenting classes, job training and a wellness center for behavioral health.

Brown said there needs to be an investment into preventing incarceration than spending more money into building a new facility.

The group also called for improvements on the conditions inside the jail for inmates but especially the mentally ill who are locked up.

"As an advocate I don't feel that the people that are incarcerated in main jail receive the mental health treatment they need," said Clare Courtright, an attorney and patient rights advocate who works inside the main jail's acute psychiatric unit.

"Conditions inside for the people that have COVID are not as they should be," Brown said. "The solitary confinement cells have feces and blood matter."

When asked if she believed Sheriff Laurie Smith was doing a good job, Brown replied, "No."

On Tuesday, supervisors Joe Simitian and Susan Ellenberg will propose a vote of no confidence in Sheriff Smith.

San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo recently called for her resignation citing her alleged lack of cooperation into the bribery investigation involving her command staff.

Last week, supervisors called on a local, state and federal investigation into the murder of inmate Michael Tyree and the severe injuries of Andrew Hogan, who is mentally ill.

"We know these things take time and, meanwhile, lives are at risk, taxpayers dollars are at risk as well and we just can't act as if it's business as usual -- as if this is normal or acceptable conduct by a public official let alone a law enforcement official," said Simitian. "It's too bad it's come to this but I'm afraid it has."

However, the protesters said they blame not only the sheriff but county leaders as well.

They marched to a county-led community engagement meeting about whether a new jail is needed and what type of facility is wanted.

Simitian said there is a pause in plans for the new jail as they try to figure out what type of resources should be designed in the new facility.

"Jail is not a good place to be and so, if there are other better venues for folks that need help rather than incarceration, I think our whole board wants to find that path," Simitian said.

A spokesperson for the sheriff's office said the sheriff would not comment on the proposal for a vote of no confidence.

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