San Mateo County has given up efforts to secure state funding for its new jail and is instead asking for a little more than $18 million to renovate the existing facility to better accommodate mentally ill inmates.
“We’ve shifted gears. We fought a good fight but unfortunately we had opposition to our efforts to get special legislation,” said Sheriff Greg Munks of the county’s prolonged attempts, along with state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, to receive up to $100 million for new jail construction.
The state most recently declined because San Mateo County has already broken ground on the new Maple Street Correctional Center on the former Chemical Way in Redwood City.
The goal now is money to upgrade and improve the Maguire Correctional Facility on Bradford Street across from the county government center and courthouse. The already overcrowded Maguire has been stretched even further by the influx of new prisoners under state realignment. This segment is staying longer, is more criminally sophisticated and has created a “hardening of the population,” Munks said.
Once the new facility opens, they will be housed there along with all female inmates and others serving time or transitioning back into the community. Maguire will be used for booking and holding pretrial and higher-level offenders and those who require maximum security, administrative segregation or special gang housing.
The mentally ill will also get new space.
The proposed renovations at Maguire call for retooling an 80-bed area into a 40-bed mental health ward and converting the second-floor correctional medical wing into space for the more seriously mentally ill. Maguire will maintain a clinic area but the primary treatment wing will be at the new jail.
Other proposed improvements include recreational facilities and enhance hands-on vocational training.
The desired projects carry a $20.1 million price tag and qualifying for state money under Senate Bill 1022 requires a 10 percent local match. The county plans to pay its part through $1,444,000 in cash from the general fund’s excess property tax reserves from fiscal year 2014-17 and $598,000 in-kind staff time by the county administration and jail planning unit.
Munks said although the county is spending money on the upgrades, it also stands to save money over time by reducing recidivism.
A state committee will make funding recommendations in mid-December with final awards by the Board of State and Community Corrections coming in January.
Munks is optimistic the county will receive money because he said its proposed projects are consistent with what the state wants to fund.
The possibility of state jail money is a sharp contrast to the county’s stymied efforts to fund its new facility. After the county’s application was last denied, Hill tried twice to gut and amend a bill that would have relinquished the state jail money declined by San Joaquin County. Hill and county officials argued San Mateo County’s project should be a priority because it was actually underway while other counties are still in the conceptual phase and not required to prove a need or site until 2017.
In 2008, the state awarded San Mateo County $100 million from a new facilities bill aimed at easing prison overcrowding but passed on the money because it refused the requirement to house state inmates. The state revamped its funding requirements and issued another round of grants but San Mateo County was not even invited to apply because other counties had larger populations and inmate pools.
Most recently, the exclusion was because the construction is already happening. The new jail is expected to open in summer 2015.
Despite the lack of state funding for the new jail, Munks said he’s glad the county didn’t wait.
“Frankly, I have no regrets about the timing and the fact that we pushed forward with our project. If you look around the state, of all the counties who have participated, not a single bed has come online yet,” Munks said. “If we had sat around and waited for them to get their act together, we’d still be six years away from getting the project done.”
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