Riverside County supervisors today accepted a to support expansion of local correctional facilities to handle the county's fast-growing inmate population, though officials warned the money will only go so far.
"We need extra jail beds here like yesterday," said Sheriff Stan Sniff. "This grant will make a significant dent...but it certainly doesn't get us out of the crisis."
According to the sheriff, the county's growth rate and changes in state law that make the county responsible for a higher number of inmates make greater jail capacity a must.
Sniff said the planned expansion of the Indio Jail will mitigate overcrowding, but won't prevent it in the years ahead.
"Overcrowding in the entire jail system will be with us for a long time," he said. "We need a consolidated site somewhere mid-county (to house inmates) ... We're no longer building vertically; we're building out."
The State Corrections Authority announced earlier this month that Riverside County would be one of 11 to receive a slice of $602 million in bond revenue under the 2011 Public Safety Realignment Act, approved last April.
The county has just under 4,000 inmate beds. According to sheriff's officials, the $100 million infusion will go toward adding another 1,200 beds, with the Indio Jail being the favored location.
Along with the award acceptance, the supervisors approved an Economic Development Agency request to establish an interest-bearing fund into which to deposit the state money and authorized the use of $10 million in development impact fee revenue—generated from construction projects—in support of the correctional system expansion.
According to EDA officials, the estimated cost of the jail build-out will be about $237 million, requiring a $130 million commitment of county cash and smaller in-kind matches over the next six years, which is the duration of the grant.
Supervisor Jeff Stone raised the prospect of resurrecting the Riverside County Regional Detention Center project, better known as the "hub jail," in Whitewater. Plans for the $300 million facility were tabled a year ago when the Board of Supervisors removed it from the county's list of capital improvement priorities.
Tourism and business interests in Palm Springs opposed the idea, saying the jail would be an eyesore on the eastern approach to the city.
Supervisors Marion Ashley and John Benoit, whose districts intersect at the location, reiterated today that the high cost of the facility was the motivation for shelving it. However, both supervisors agreed that a central county jail, somewhere, is still necessary.
"Wherever we go with the mid-county site, hopefully it will be more acceptable to people," Ashley said.
All 58 of California's counties are being forced to house a greater number of inmates because of Assembly Bill 109, which took effect Oct. 1.
The realignment legislation mandates that individuals convicted of crimes that fall into the non-violent, non-serious, non-sexually oriented category, and whose principal offense results in a sentence of three years or less, are to be incarcerated in county jails.
The law was touted as an efficiency measure by Gov. Jerry Brown and other lawmakers, who implemented it in response to a federal court decree that California reduce its prison population by 33,000 inmates over the next two years because of overcrowding.
According to county public safety officials, AB 109 has led to a heavier burden on local resources.
"It has really accelerated our overcrowding problem and is undermining a lot of our criminal justice system elements," Sniff said.
In the first four months the law has been operational, 570 non's have been sentenced to jail time locally, according to a probation department report. It said nearly 2,000 are expected to receive jail sentences in the first full year.
Since Jan. 1, more than 600 inmates have been released early from county jails to make room for the influx. For the last 20 years, the county has been under a federal court order requiring that every detainee have a bed—or sheriff's officials must reduce the jail population.
Sniff said the county needs to increase jail capacity by 4,000 beds in the next seven years.