It’s official — San Mateo County will receive a hefty financial infusion from the state to expand its existing county jail to better accommodate mentally ill inmates and the longer-staying population that would have been housed in prison prior to criminal justice realignment.
The Board of State and Community Corrections’ executive steering committee recommended the $500 million award to 15 counties, including San Mateo, in December. On Thursday, the full board confirmed the funding recommendation.
“This is really good news,” said Sheriff Greg Munks.
Assistant Sheriff Trish Sanchez represented the county at the board meeting and reported the vote was “a little touch and go” because of other counties wanting to change the allocations or postpone the vote but that ultimately the recommendation stood. San Mateo County’s portion is more than $24 million for the Maguire Correctional Facility on Bradford Street.
The projects include converting the jail’s now-dormant treatment center into a Critical Treatment Center for the most severely mentally ill, changing one 80-bed pod used for general population into a 40-bed treatment section for the less acute mentally ill, a new recreation yard for newly realigned inmates staying in jail for longer periods of time, a public retail vocational store to train reentry and furlough inmates, along with overall seismic upgrades.
Munks said the projects won’t start for at least a year and half after the new Maple Street Correctional Center in Redwood City is finished because inmates and programs will need to be shifted over from Maguire to make room for the expansion. For example, the video visitation area once up and running will create space for child care and the retail store.
“We will start the process and the design but won’t be able to do any construction until the new jail is open and we’re able to reduce the population,” Munks said.
The new facility will house realignment inmates, all female inmates and others serving time or transitioning back into the community. Maguire will continue being used for booking and holding pretrial and higher-level offenders and those who require maximum security, administrative segregation or special gang housing. Some areas in Maguire like the outdated kitchen will be moved to the new jail which will free up more space for new use.
Another factor that might slow expansion progress is the state’s bond process which requires review of every step, Munks said.
The state funds require a 10 percent local match which the county plans to pay 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.
But while officials lauded the state’s final stamp of approval, opponents of new and expanded jails statewide held rallies Thursday and denounced what they said was needless spending.
“These jail construction plans are dangerous and devastating to our communities,” said Luz Flores, an organizer with the Youth Justice Coalition, in a prepared statement.
The coalition along with Californians United for a Responsible Budget held rallies in Santa Cruz and Los Angeles to protest the jail construction allocations. Munks said protesters were also present outside the board meeting in Sacramento.
“I understand some of what they’re talking about although we disagree but what troubles and disappoints me is their lack of being forthright and in some cases making inaccurate claims,” Munks said, citing a specific example of debate over chemical cleanup at the Maple Street Correctional Center.
Munks said the groups’ blanket claims are not applicable to individual counties’ issues and needs.
“It might be an easier approach but it’s not a very helpful one,” he said.
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