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San Mateo County Preps for Jail Bloat

New legislation will send felons to county jails instead of state prison. San Mateo County is exploring rehabilitation programs to ease pressure on the already overcrowded incarceration system.

San Mateo County’s Board of Supervisors are debating whether they should spend about $165 million on a new jail in Redwood City that would accommodate an imminent influx of felons.

Felons are currently sent to state prison. When AB 109 goes into effect on Oct. 1, they will be sent to incarceration centers managed by the county.

But the ones in San Mateo County have already exceeded capacity, according to San Mateo County Sheriff Greg Munks.

“Our facilities are woefully inadequate," Munks told the Board of Supervisors Wednesday afternoon at the County’s Hall of Justice during a study session held to brief the supervisors before their Oct. 4 meeting. 

“Our female inmates are kept in substandard, chronically overcrowded conditions, which creates risk to our staff and inmates,” Munks said, noting that the problem was going to get worse.

He anticipates that about 350 inmates will be added to the current inmate population in the next year. Consequently, Munks is recommending that the supervisors choose one of three designs for a new maximum-security facility with plenty of rooms to house inmates, and the programs that refine the social skills they need to transition into society upon regaining their freedom.

The “full build” design would have 832 beds, while the “partial build” would have 640, according to the agenda for the September 13 study session.

Funding for the multi-million dollar development has not been secured. 

“Neither the capital cost nor the operating expense has been budgeted, and would be in addition to the $50 million ongoing structural deficit,” reads the agenda.

The most viable option is one that has 576 beds with a vacant floor that can accommodate an additional 256 beds, says Munks.

The Board of Supervisors will decide whether or not it will become a line item in the budget at the Oct. 4 meeting.

The county has already invested tens of millions of dollars into the project, according to Munks, so he urged that the Supervisors approve it. 

County Manager David Boesch also said that they’ve been working on it for too long to stop now.

“I’m confident that we’ll be able to develop a set of strategies that enable us to bring on board a new jail facility and maintain all the other services that our community needs,” Boesch said Tuesday.

Supervisor Dave Pine, who represents the county’s 1st district, is not sold.

“I have major reservations about the cost of all of this,” Pine said, ”I can’t separate the jail from the overall economic realities in which we do live.”

Pine is not persuaded that the rehabilitation programs will reduce the amount of people in the jail population, or make the county a safer place. Some of the rehabilitation programs are designed to enable prisoners to transition into the workforce through vocational training and social network development.

Munks said that the maximum amount that the county could receive from the state to supplement the development of the new facilities would be $100 million.

“I would rather invest this money in things like after school programming, or something like that, but this is a real need,” Munks said, with one hand on his hip. 

He said that Supervisor Don Horsley, who represents the 3rd District, agreed with him.

Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson, who represents the 4th district, which includes Menlo Park, said that programs and services for the inmates should be the highlight of the new facility. 

“It’s important to have a line item that speaks to the commitment about programs, services, and transitional housing in this facility,” Gibson said.

“That spells it out, so we’re not just talking about doing this, but dedicated to purpose. So that we’re not just looking at construction of a facility, but demonstrating our commitment to these programs,” she added.

Presiding Judge Beth Freeman says that even if the county reduces the money it spends on inmates by putting them on probation, starting next week, the criminal justice system will change dramatically.

“Because Monday is the start date of this new world of criminal justice realignment, we all have to take note of what we’re facing,” Freeman said. 

“Judges will be asked to impose sentence on individuals who are pleading to felonies or found guilty. Up and through this afternoon, they were sent to state prison for up to 15 years…now they will be staying here,” she added. 

For example, if a person is convicted of three incidents of drug sales, and is given a three year sentence, one on top of the other, they will be sent to county jail for 12 years rather than be sent to the state prison.  

“We’ve never dealt with an individual like that,” she said, “Sadly all our partners in health and mental health would recognize that a drug dealer doesn’t need a drug addiction program. They’re not necessarily a user; they’ve got a business to run.”

No action was taken at the study session; the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors will reconvene on Oct. 4 to make a decision. For more information, visit this website.

billyjames September 30, 2011 at 10:45 PM
I appreciate Supervisor Pine's reference to the bigger picture in which building prisons is a part -- as is public education, and we've grappled with the imbalance for more than a century: "It is easier to build strong children than it is to repair broken men." -- Frederick Douglass

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