Inland counties denied millions for jail construction
by JEFF HORSEMAN
Riverside and San Bernardino counties each were denied requests this month for $80 million in state grants for jail construction, even though their applications ranked among the highest-scoring based on criteria used to evaluate grant proposals.
The denial hampers efforts to add and improve jail space in this region. In order to comply with federal court orders, each county has released thousands of inmates early since 2011 because there's no room for them.
Riverside's 3,906 jail beds in five jails are all filled. And the chronic lack of beds was exacerbated in 2011 with the enactment of public safety realignment. Under realignment, offenders convicted of low-level offenses serve their time in county jails instead of state prisons, a move made to satisfy a court mandate to reduce California's prison population.
Almost 7,000 Riverside inmates were turned loose early in 2012 to relieve crowding. More than 9,000 have been let go so far this year.
Early release could cause a rise in low-level crimes, such as petty theft and drug possession, said Riverside County Assistant Sheriff Steve Thetford.
“There's no deterrent effect when you can't keep people in custody,” he said. “It's not healthy for public safety.”
San Bernardino's four jails hold about 6,000 inmates. Since January 2012, more than 6,900 inmates have been released early. An expansion of the Adelanto jail will add another 1,392 beds.
Both counties competed for a slice of $500 million set aside by the state Legislature for jail construction with an emphasis on programs intended to stop inmates from re-offending. In all, Sacramento received $1.3 billion in requests from 36 counties.
Riverside wanted the money to add 582 beds to the 1,520-bed Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility in Banning. Grant dollars also would have paid for more space for vocational, substance abuse and education programs already taking place at Larry Smith.
San Bernardino wanted $80 million to reconfigure and add buildings to the Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center, said Cindy Bachman, a sheriff's spokeswoman. Money also would have gone to improving a road to the jail that is subject to flooding, she said.
A state steering committee graded each request. Among large counties, San Bernardino scored the highest and Riverside ranked third. However, the recommended grant awards went to Orange, San Mateo, Fresno and Sacramento counties.
Robert Oates, a project manager with the state corrections board, said Riverside and San Bernardino did not do enough to show that their respective county supervisors were committed to funding the jail projects that were the focus of their grant requests. Preference goes to shovel-ready projects, he said.
Riverside County officials disagree. In an email, spokesman Ray Smith said the county plans to appeal the grant decision. He contends that the county demonstrated its commitment by expanding the Indio jail and building a new secure youth treatment facility.
A $100 million state grant is paying for the estimated $267 million cost of adding more than 1,200 beds to the 353-bed Indio jail, which will be known as the East County Detention Center. The expansion is supposed to be ready by 2017, but Riverside officials earlier this year were worried that delays in getting state approvals might push back the timeline.
Smith and Thetford said the county will try to find other funding to expand the Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility.
Besides seeking funds elsewhere, Riverside also is considering non-jail alternatives for offenders. These include sending more inmates to state-run fire camps and increased use of electronic monitoring.
Adding onto Smith remains a priority, Thetford said.
“It's a competitive process. Sometimes you win and sometimes you don't,” he said. “We're just going to keep plugging away at it.”
Riverside and San Bernardino counties each were turned down for $80 million in state grants for jail construction.
What's at stake? The denial hampers efforts to add and improve jail space in this region.
What it means: Lower-level criminals will continue to be released early.
Why does that matter? Early release could cause a rise in low-level crimes, such as petty theft and drug possession.
What's next? Officials from both counties say they'll seek funding elsewhere.