Fresno County jail money secure, but Kings, Tulare uncertain

The Fresno BeeMarch 3, 2014 

Fresno County Jail in downtown Fresno.

CRAIG KOHLRUSS — THE FRESNO BEE Buy Photo

Fresno County will get nearly $79.2 million in funding for a new county jail wing, but Tulare and Kings counties will have to sweat out appeals that will go to the Board of State & Community Corrections next week.

Tulare and Kings counties are in line to get tens of millions of dollars, but those funds -- at least partially -- could be in jeopardy if appeals are supported by a state panel during hearings next Tuesday in Sacramento.

The panel will make a recommendation to the full corrections board on March 13, said Kathleen Howard, executive director of the Board of State & Community Corrections.

Depending on the panel's recommendation, the corrections board could hold another hearing to listen to arguments if there are counties that get bumped out of funding, or get less funding because of a successful appeal, she said.

The $500 million state pot for jail expansion was awarded to counties on a competitive basis, and 36 counties submitted funding requests. Each county was then ranked by state officials based on certain criteria. There were 15 fully or partially funded projects.

Each county has to offer about a 10% funding match, which can include such things as land value.

Fresno County was in the large counties division and was one of three counties to get a full award. Sacramento finished fourth to gain a partial award.

The new, $88 million, 300-bed facility in Fresno would be adjacent to the existing main and north annex jails at Merced and L streets. It will have 199 fewer beds than the south annex, but outdated cells will be replaced with pods that allow more inmate supervision. It will also offer medical/mental health services, video visitation and a stand-alone laundry and storage building.

Construction will take four years.

"I am pleased that no other jurisdiction challenged our award and we are thrilled to have gotten the funding," said Andreas Borgeas, Fresno County Board of Supervisors chairman. "This type of investment is good for our community."

Among medium-sized counties, Tulare County got $40 million and was one of four to get a full award. A fifth county, San Joaquin, received partial funding. But two counties, Stanislaus and Monterey, filed appeals.

Tulare County's $44.4 million jail project was the fourth highest rated and last to gain full funding for its project among mid-sized counties. Stanislaus County finished sixth, had more points than Tulare, yet fewer of the valuable "preference criteria."

Tulare County plans a $44.4 million, 388-bed men's jail at Sequoia Field, near the site of its existing facility, which has 302 beds.

Inmates will get housed in small groups. The new facility will include classrooms for education, behavioral therapy and vocational instruction. There also is space for cells to segregate inmates from the general population.

"It's up to the (state) board to decide if there was some factor that wasn't considered," Debbie Vaughn, senior administrative analyst with Tulare County, said referring to the Stanislaus County appeal.

Monterey County also filed an appeal, but its point total was far below Tulare County and was last among 11 counties in the medium division.

Among small counties, Kings County ranked third, getting $20 million for its jail project. Five counties got full funding in the small division and one was partially funded.

Humboldt County, which appealed the state decision, had more points than Kings County, but none of the "preference criteria." If Humboldt County was moved up due to its appeal, it probably would not affect Kings County, said Sheriff Dave Robinson.

"Even if they were to bump into the top group we would still be in the top five," he said.

Robinson said he thinks there were few challenges to the selections because Gov. Jerry Brown has promised $500 million of additional funding for jail projects in next year's state budget.

Kings County's project at the county Government Center will cost $21.05 million and include 24 mental health beds. Today, Kings County has no beds for mental health services at the jail. It also will include an area for vocational instruction and a culinary kitchen.

Robinson said the jail has 65 inmates in its general housing unit with mental health issues, and the funding will allow the county to target those inmates with services. The wing's opening is set for 2017, he said.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6166, mbenjamin@fresnobee.com or @beebenjamin on Twitter.

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