Santa Clara County Supervisors OK Plan to Seek State Funds For New Jail Tower

Plan also will add beds for mentally ill inmates at Santa Clara County jail.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a plan to ask the state to pay for a new tower and repair work at the county's Main Jail to keep up with a spike in state prison inmates and those in need of mental health treatment.

"I believe we have to face the challenges of what the state has dropped on us," Supervisor Mike Wasserman said.

The county jail system has seen a larger population over the last three years since the state passed Assembly Bill 109, transferring prison inmates to county jails to reduce overcrowding, according to county officials.

As a result there are not enough beds for high-security inmates to provide a safe environment inside, county officials said.

The Main Jail South building on West Hedding Street in San Jose, built in the 1950s, should be replaced with a 480-cell tower to handle the influx of inmates and the Main Jail North modified to make room for those with acute mental health needs, county Chief Operating Officer Gary Graves said.

There are 25 to 30 percent of jail inmates who have mental health difficulties requiring daily medication, Graves said.

A consultant projected the price tag for the project at about $60 million to $70 million, but county officials are concerned that the cost "will be considerably greater" and the maximum grant available from the state is $80 million, Graves said.

The five-member board voted unanimously to spend $950,000 toward designing the proposed new Main Jail South tower and remodeling of the Main Jail North and to begin the process of applying for construction funds with the state.

Brad Sassatelli, vice president of MGT of America hired as a consultant by the county, told the board today that the jail's population rose by about 700 inmates since 2011 due to AB 109 and raised the total number of inmates in the county's incarceration system to 4,157 as of last May.

However, the county jail's inmate count fell to 3,622 as of Jan. 14 since voters in November passed Proposition 47, the ballot measure that turned seven non-violent felony crimes into misdemeanors, thus reducing the sentences and freeing thousands of prison inmates, Sassatelli said.

The decline may also have resulted from other factors, as inmates in jails typically decline in December and January each year and many of the first prison inmates transferred under AB 109 are reaching the end of their sentences, he said.

The flow of prisoners from state correctional centers based on AB 109 is projected to increase by 33 percent from 2014 to 2034 and the county will need to have 5,700 beds in the next 20 years, although that estimate was made before the passage of Proposition 47, he said.

The jail currently has an inadequate number of beds to house maximum-security inmates, which are sure to increase from the state prisons, and for inmates who are mentally or physically ill, he said.

The "deteriorating, aging" Main Jail South is a "first generation" jail that does not permit security staff to adequately observe inmates, has no space for modern inmate programs and has maintenance problems such as leaky plumbing that have worsened and renovating it would cost more than replacing it, he said.

The recommendation is for the new tower is to have a total of 480 maximum-security cells for one inmate each, with the ability to add a second inmate per cell for a total of 960 inmates if needed, he said.

Another "critical need," according Sassatelli, is an overhaul of the jail's information systems, which currently do not provide even the most basic information about offenders required for the daily management of the jail.

The jail's medical records system "has severe limitations" and should be upgraded, he said.

The county's Elmwood Correctional Facility in Milpitas also should have a new medical unit and $1.2 million in funding for six new classrooms to hold programs for medium security male and female inmates who are at a higher risk of reoffending, he said.

Elmwood, where both men and women are housed, also needs "gender specific programming" since managing females is significantly different from managing males, he said.

Jails in California have become "both a jail and a prison," he said.

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