Jails Go to Sheriff

One of the shockers to come out of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors’ budget hearings last week was the decision to return control of the county jails to the Sheriff’s Department.

The two were separated like bad children back in 1987, after then-Sheriff Robert E. Winter was brought to court by inmates and accused of overcrowding in the jails while the jails hemorrhaged money. In a deal orchestrated by the then-Supes’ chairwoman, now-Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, the county wrested control from the sheriff and created the Department of Corrections.

The highly controversial decision was supposed to save $2 million in its first year, but also created a slew of managerial, logistical and legal troubles that have plagued both departments for decades. Lawsuits over carrying firearms gave some control back to the sheriff, but corrections officers have been clamoring for the right to carry firearms, for sheriff’s ID badges and for some goddamn respect around here ever since.

Because Lofgren was on board one of those direct flights to D.C. that you can’t get out of Mineta anymore and unable to talk at presstime, Fly can only speculate how Lofgren must feel about the two departments shacking up again. Sheriff Laurie Smith will absorb the DOC’s budget and direct control over all 796 officers, while DOC chief Edward Flores has had his job description severely pared down to a handful of humble duties, like laundry, food and administrative booking. Smith, of course, was only too pleased to take on the extra responsibility and get the extra money. Flores not so much.

The Fly is a weekly column written by San Jose Inside staff that provides a behind-the-scenes look at local politics.


  1. Good.  I remember when the voters approved the DOC in the June 1988 primary election, and it seemed like a foolish idea at the time.  Why did Santa Clara County need an entire new layer of bureaucracy, when the other 57 counties were content with just a Sheriff’s department?

    • Hey Frank,
      You sound like a Deputy? The CO’s have done a far better job since taking over the jails. There have been less successful lawsuits, less excessive use of force cases, better relations with the public and less donut eating, fat ass sloppy Deputies around!!

  2. The reason they split the DOC was to save money and the voters agreed. You can pay corrections offices a lot less than a Sheriff’s Deputy… This is penny-wise and pound foolish. DOC officers are now going to fight to be recognized as Deputies which is going to cost the county MILLIONS in labor costs. Laurie is a great Sheriff, but this isn’t about her, it’s about long term costs. The best action here would have been to consolidate the duplication of services between the County admin, Sheriff and the DOC. Why does the county, sheriff, and DOC all have separate admin and such?? That should have been the focus.