Richmond: Council opposes West County Jail expansion; supervisors to vote on project next month
By Karina Ioffee email@example.com
Posted: 07/30/2015 02:54:46 PM PDTC
Updated: 07/31/2015 07:10:35 AM PDT
RICHMOND -- The City Council has voted to oppose the expansion of the West County Detention Facility, arguing that the city should not bear the brunt of housing the majority of the county's inmates and should focus more on social services instead of the construction of new jails.
The Contra Costa Sheriff's Office wants to build a high-security wing at the existing Richmond jail and transfer up to 400 inmates currently housed in Martinez. The Sheriff's Office has touted the plan as a way to offer more treatment and services to high-security offenders who are now crowded at the Martinez jail, where they don't have access to programs because of a lack of space.
The new facility would offer mental health and vocational services, a child-visitation center, and rehabilitation and re-entry programs.
In a 5-2 vote this week, the City Council opposed the project, although it has no jurisdiction over the final decision. The ultimate authority lies with the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors, which will consider the plan Aug. 18.
The 150,000-square-foot expansion would be funded with an $80 million grant from the Criminal Justice Facilities Construction fund, created to help counties update their jail facilities and part of the state-mandated prison realignment in 2011. That legislation gave counties money to house nonviolent, nonserious and non-sex offenders in local jails.
The Sheriff's Office has not yet received the grant but must apply to the Board of State and Community Corrections by the end of August. The county would also chip in roughly $6.5 million for programs if the grant is approved.
Richmond council members and more than a dozen residents who spoke Tuesday questioned Sheriff's Office representatives about why a new high-security jail wing was needed in West County. Others wondered why a new jail was not being built in more affluent areas of the county, such as San Ramon or Danville.
"A jail is not a setting for mental health treatment or service; it does not create safer communities," said Nancy Kelly, a member of Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization, a network of local religious groups working on social justice initiatives. "If we want to create a safer community, we need to put these services out in the community."
Some have criticized the Sheriff's Office for holding on to $1.43 million in state realignment funds, which they say could be spent on mental health and other programs without building a new jail facility. But Capt. Tom Chalk said a new high-security wing was needed anyway because the Martinez jail, where high-security inmates are now held, is outdated and doesn't have any space for programs.
"Martinez is a compacted and crowded environment that was designed for short, pretrial housing, and built in 1978," Chalk said.
Leftover realignment funding is held by the county administrator's office and would be allocated by the Community Corrections Partnership, a program consisting of Sheriff David Livingston, Richmond police Chief Chris Magnus, the district attorney and county health and probation departments.
Despite the promise of new treatment and programs, opponents have pounced on the plan as a thinly veiled attempt to build more jails.
Magnus has also raised concerns about the plan.
"Increasingly, folks on all sides of the political spectrum are recognizing that tax dollars geared toward reducing crime and recidivism are better spent on community-based corrections than further jail construction," Magnus said in an email. "Contra Costa County has made a lot of progress along these lines, but even under the guise of better 'mental health and re-entry services,' creating more jail capacity when the West County Detention Facility has a long-standing vacancy rate of over 30 percent is a poor expenditure of scarce tax dollars."
If the Board of Supervisors approves the project, the Sheriff's Office will submit its application by Aug. 28 and find out in November if it was selected.
Contact Karina Ioffee at 510-262-2726 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at Twitter.com/kioffee