Plans to build women’s jail get kickstart

2/25/11

A stalled proposal to construct a badly needed new women’s jail in San Luis Obispo County has new life.

With a 4-0 vote Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors gave county staff the OK to begin negotiations with the state for a large chunk of the proposed facility’s funding. Supervisor Frank Mecham was absent.

On average, the women’s portion of County Jail has a daily population of 80 inmates. It’s rated for 43.

The estimated $36.4 million expansion project includes construction of a 196-bed housing unit for women and a separate medical facility, as well as installation of a new security system for the entire jail complex.

The medical unit would be utilized by both men and women incarcerated at County Jail, and also would include on-site dental. The jail doesn’t have dental facilities and inmates are taken outside the jail for treatment.

Additionally, the new housing unit would have enough space to conduct both open and closed counseling sessions and treatment programs with the female inmates.

Constant overcrowding doesn’t allow for any one-on-one counseling. Space that could be used for such services is presently used to house inmates.

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“You have two options, counseling in the hallway or the yard, and there’s only one yard,” said Chief Deputy Rob Reid. “There’s not a lot of privacy and it creates a disturbance.”

The new housing unit would include two classrooms where inmates could participate in programs such as job-training skills.

Under the state’s proposed budget, Gov. Jerry Brown wants to realign certain state and county government functions, such as transferring numerous inmates presently housed at state prisons back to county jails.

If that were to happen, the total population at County Jail would increase by about 25 percent.

“(We need that many beds) because we don’t know what’s ahead,” said Sheriff Ian Parkinson. “We do have to build for growth. We don’t want to come back in 10 years and do this again.”

In 2008, the county was conditionally awarded $25.1 million from the state through Assembly Bill 900 for construction of a new women’s jail. The project never moved forward at that time and had since been on hold.

Last year, the board again delayed the proposed expansion because it wanted detailed information about programs at County Jail and outside the facility aimed at reducing recidivism rates.

The supervisors wanted assurance the new jail wouldn’t simply be a place where women were incarcerated and didn’t receive rehabilitation, which they received Tuesday.

“This isn’t just a lock ’em up facility,” said 5th District Supervisor Jim Patterson. “I feel good that (the project) provides opportunities to address deficiencies that exist (at County Jail).”

The county’s share of the project would be about$10 million, which has been put in reserves.

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