A $35,000 report commissioned by the Fresno County Sheriff's Office tells local leaders something they already know: the county jail fails to meet demand, and the situation is only going to get worse.
The 3,291-bed lockup needs to be enlarged to more than 5,000 beds over the next 25 years, according to the report, or the number of early-released inmates will soar.
Meanwhile, the jail's aging 686-bed south annex should be retired, dormitories should be replaced with single-person cells to enhance safety and rehabilitation should be introduced to help curb recidivism, the report says.
While Sheriff Margaret Mims is well aware of these needs, she hopes the new 77-page document will make her case for financing a bigger and more modern incarceration complex.
Mims expects the county Board of Supervisors, as soon as its meeting Tuesday afternoon, to approve her pursuit of as much as $80 million for jail construction. The state money would pay for a retrofit of the downtown jail, a new annex at the jail site or a rebuilt satellite complex at an old jail in southeast Fresno -- or some combination.
FRESNO BEE FILE
A file photo of the Fresno County Jail.
"We've known for years that Fresno's population is growing and so is our jail population, and we need to be prepared for that," Mims said.
The report by San Carlos-based Daniel C. Smith and Associates, Inc., builds upon a similar study done five years ago. It shows Fresno County's need for jail space has grown since the old study, primarily because of California's realignment of state prisoners to local lockups.
Nearly a quarter of the county's current jail inmates are felons who would have gone to prison before Gov. Jerry Brown introduced the realignment 21/2 years ago.
Even before the realignment, county jailers had been releasing inmates early -- upwards of 60 a day -- to prevent overcrowding, something many blame for recent upticks in crime.
The new jail report indicates that the county should have 4,539 beds by 2017 and 5,796 beds by 2037 to meet demand.
"We need to have plenty of space for people who choose the criminal lifestyle," said county Supervisor Debbie Poochigian.
Before Poochigian signs off on the state grant application, though, she said she wants to be certain there's money not only to meet the 10% match on the grant but to staff the new beds if and when they're built.
But not everyone is supportive of more beds. As Fresno County has received state money to pay for the realignment, a growing contingent of local residents has petitioned that the funds go to rehab and treatment programs instead of incarceration.
"California has been building prisons and jails like crazy for years, and it hasn't solved anything," said Fresno resident Bill Simon. "We don't need to be putting people in jail more and more. We need to figure out how to keep them out."
Mims and Poochigian agree that rehab is part of the solution but say adequate jail space needs to be secured first.
If Mims gets the decision she expects from county supervisors -- to move forward with state funding -- she plans to commission a detailed study of the options for jail expansion and their costs.
The 2008 study pegged the price of a new addition and major retrofit at the downtown jail at more than $500 million. That doesn't include staffing.
Mims anticipates that there will be less expensive options.
The state funding is expected to be put up for grabs in May.
County Jail by the numbers
3,291 beds are operational
187 beds are not in use because of staffing or maintenance issues
40,750 bookings last year
20.85 days is average stay
87% of inmates are men
98% of inmates are felons (2% booked for misdemeanors)
SACRAMENTO -- A plan for inmate population reduction in California's prisons that was submitted Thursday by Gov. Jerry Brown and his corrections department to three federal judges may be dead on arrival.
EDITORIAL: The big gap in public safetyrealignment is lack of facts
After a year-and-a-half under public safety realignment, counties are deep into their plans for 2013-14. Have they done better than the state in cutting re-offense rates for those convicted of nonviolent, nonserious, non-sex offenses?
The jury is still out, primarily because legislators and the governor failed to include statewide collection of data. That needs to change.
The new Board of State and Community Corrections, Chief Probation Officers of California, Administrative Office of the Courts and California State Sheriffs' Association each voluntarily collect some data, but there is no uniform statewide monitoring of recidivism.
Due to sweeping changes in California's criminal justice system, paroled rapists, molesters and other sex offenders are doing little or no jail time for violating the terms of their release, giving them little reason not to strike again.
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