After Santa Maria's Foster Road Jail closed last year, people arrested in northern Santa Barbara County are now taken to the Santa Barbara County Jail - 60 miles away. The county did have a contract with a cab company to transport those people back to Santa Maria upon release, but the company went out of business. Most detainees simply don't have a way to get to back to North County, especially late at night when the buses aren't running.
KCBX's Bree Zender spoke with Kasey Bubnash, who's been reporting on the situation for the Santa Maria Sun.
BUBNASH: This year the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office took a huge budget cut. And so they had to close the Foster Road Jail, which was in Santa Maria - it was only a holding facility in North County. People are driven 60 miles to Santa Barbara County Jail in Goleta, which is right outside of Santa Barbara. And then they don't have any way to get back home. People who are released during the day, the sheriff's office will give them the free bus token, if you don't have family that can come pick them up. But then people who are released past 9 p.m., when buses stop running, are just kind of out of luck. [They] have to either wait all night in the waiting room or the lobby, or they can walk. It's six miles back to State Street in [downtown] Santa Barbara. And then for people from North County it's 60 miles. And it can be more than that.
KCBX: You opened this story with this guy named Dan. Tell me about Dan.
BUBNASH: I went to the jail one night because there's this program called Lights On... it's this Christian group that provides snacks, bus schedules, coffee, and water for people who are released between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m., Monday through Thursday. And [two] of the people who came out were from North County. Neither of them had a way to get home. One girl was going to be waiting there for a few hours until her ride woke up or answered the phone. Dan was a homeless man who was released in a wheelchair. And the park that he sleeps in downtown Santa Barbara was seven miles away. He said he didn't have any cartilage in his knee. And so that's why he couldn't walk and he didn't have any way to get home. And Hank Bowis, who was volunteering that night for Lights On, called the cab and paid for his cab ride home, which he said he does pretty often when women are released or special cases - like Dan.
KCBX: Is there anything that Santa Barbara County is doing about this?
BUBNASH: I spoke with the sheriff's office and they actually do seem to be working to solve the problem. They just kind of let [the jail cab ride program] end. I mean, it was clear that the program was going to end because the cab company that was providing rides to people at night went out of business. And they had warned the sheriff's office they were going out of business. The sheriff's office said that they've been looking for a cab company since then. It's not a problem of funding. It's just an issue of not being able to find a cab company that is willing to sign a contract and do the program. But they're also doing this other thing where they process their paperwork differently. Now they process all releasing paperwork first so that people can be released as soon as possible.
KCBX: You said they're trying to partner with different cab companies but it seems like in the age of Uber and Lyft, cab companies are starting to go extinct, much like Blockbuster. Are they considering maybe partnering with Uber or Lyft?
BUBNASH: They wouldn't tell me which cab companies that called, but they did say they have called Uber. I'm not sure about Lyft. But they called Uber, and Uber didn't want to do it.
Read more on this story here.