Skittish about joining what one of them called the “growing empire of incarceration,” county supervisors on Tuesday delayed action on a proposed $36 million expansion of the women’s jail.
Supervisors said they would go forward, but not until February and not until they met with various county leaders to ensure that whatever expansion their jail takes will be done in a comprehensive manner.
Prison expansion in California has been proceeding with a mindset that Supervisor Adam Hill described as “providing more room for the last stop.” He said he did not want the County Jail to be “a standard lock ’em up.”
Decision-makers should pay more heed to keeping people from jail in the first place and working to keep released offenders from going back behind bars, he said, rather than yielding to what he called an empire of incarceration.
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He and Supervisor Bruce Gibson said the county should expand the jail in the context of a careful, comprehensive look at the concept of justice locally, and seek opinions from the courts, the district attorney, the Probation Department, the sheriff, drug and alcohol abuse professionals, mental health experts and others.
Hill singled out the need for more attention to detox and rehabilitation facilities.
The discussion took place as supervisors deliberated whether and under what circumstances to accept a
$25 million state jail construction grant for which the county has been approved.
The money was authorized for construction under what Supervisor Frank Mecham called a “brick and mortar” jail grant. Several supervisors said they worried about jeopardizing the funding if they slowed down to gather more information.
Leslie Heller of the state Department of Corrections told supervisors she did not foresee the grant being jeopardized “at this time,” although she said if the county makes substantial changes to proposals already reviewed by the state, it could cause complications.
Under the current proposal, the county could take care of some of the problems Hill raised, Supervisor Jim Patterson said. It would, for example, create new medical facilities and provide added space for counseling.
Nevertheless, Patterson voted with three of his colleagues for a delay until February. The vote was 4-1, with Katcho Achadjian saying the proposal has been thoroughly reviewed and delayed long enough, and should move forward.
Achadjian also said jail construction creates jobs.
The proposed augmentation of the women’s jail could boost capacity to as many as 196 beds, which would alleviate overcrowding and provide for future needs.
The current jail has a rated capacity for 43 inmates. But between the 2007 and 2009 fiscal years, the population averaged 73, according to a report to the board from administrative analyst Vince Morici and sheriff’s Chief Deputy Rob Reid.
Expansion also would allow the county to rebuild the jail’s outdated security system.