Santa Clara promised to build a mental health facility. It’s building a new jail instead.

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in 2020, a spirit of reform swept many state and local governments, leading to new policies and a commitment to change. Nearly two years later, some of the promises have proved hard to keep.

“Santa Clara County moved forward last week with plans for a new jail, a move sharply criticized by opponents who for years have urged officials to use the funds for a mental health treatment center instead,” KQED reports.

“After more than three hours of heated public comment, the county Board of Supervisors in a 3-2 vote narrowly approved construction of the $390 million facility, while pledging to keep the treatment facility idea on the table.”

Officials have long argued the new jail is needed because the existing Main Jail North facility is inadequate. But after the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, supervisors voted unanimously to halt construction of the new jail and explore a mental health care facility instead.

Supervisor Otto Lee explained the board’s about-face this way:

“Main Jail North is not ADA-accessible, it has seismic problems, it lacks recreational programming spaces like classrooms. If the facility that we're talking about were not being built, we are actually prolonging the suffering, because [inmates] would then be stuck in the current facilities.”

One thing all officials seem to agree on is the need for expanded mental health services. Sheriff Laurie Smith estimates 25% of Santa Clara County’s inmates have a serious mental illness. According to California Health Policy Strategies, for the state’s jail population, severe mental illness is as high as 31%.