Can taxpayers in San Mateo County afford to ? Should they?
The question has been a hot topic in many discussions, and came up again Thursday morning in Redwood Shores when six Board of Supervisor election candidates . Five favor the plan, one does not.
The decision to build a new jail will cost taxpayers an estimated $165 million to build and $30-40 million a year to operate at a time when the county continues to battle with a struggling economy.
District 4 candidate Carlos Romero opposes moving forward. "For us to add almost $40 million (to the county's operating budget) it's almost incomprehensible," says Romero. "It's almost irresponsible. We have to back off."
According to Romero's figures, the combined impact of the debt to finance the jail, projected over 30 years, is $1.2 billion.
Says Romero, "Why wouldn't I want to hold back? Why do we need 835 beds if we could more efficiently address this issue through electronic monitoring, examining pre-trial lock-ups, by figuring out if we could use the excess capacity that may exist in San Bruno, by figuring out if we could rehabilitate some of the existing youth facilities we have since we're no longer incarcerating youth. There are other ways to address this."
His opponents for the open supervisor's seat disagree.
Ernie Schmidt: "Having a brother-in-law at that main jail, I think it's way too overcrowded. I think we need the jail. I've also visited the women's jail; that's a complete disgrace. I'm surprised we haven't been sued our pants off on that one."
Shelly Masur: "I think we need some more space that will make it possible for people to get the job training they need, the literacy training they need, get the treatment that they need so we can keep people out of jail, and by building some new facilities we can have that opportunity."
Memo Morantes: "I'm very committed to more programs to the inmates and the families of the inmates. I want to double or triple those programs and get people back to work."
Andy Cohen: "We can't do what we need to do to to serve the incarcerated people under the present arrangement. The existing facilities are woefully inadequate. If that means debt? You know we didn't make these problems, we just have to do our best to deal with them"
Kirsten Keith: "The women's jail is atrocious. It needs help, nobody should be housed there. The men's jail, it's not safe for deputies, and it's not safe for the clients. When you have that kind of situation, you are looking at liability issues, and there are all sorts of problems."
Romero feels we need to go back to what he considers a core issue.
"We're not addressing the recitivism issue," says Romero. "We're warehousing, and we know that doesn't work."
What do you think? Should we step back, and re-channel money into programs rather than a new facility? Are we warehousing? Or is the state's realignment of the prison population, unexpectedly sending many criminals back to the county level, demanding more bed space, space that may not presently exist? Are we risking long-term liability issues given the current conditions of the county jail?
Tell us in your comments, and vote in the poll below.