San Mateo County supervisors poised to plunk down $16.5 million for initial costs of building new jail

This piece was originally posted by the San Jose Mercury News.

By Bonnie Eslinger

Daily News Staff Writer

Posted:   05/08/2012 02:00:00 AM PDT

Although it hasn’t yet nailed down a funding source for a new jail, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors today will consider spending $16.5 million for architectural, design and construction management services needed to get the project started.

Sheriff Greg Munks wants the county to build a correctional facility designed to open with 576 beds but large enough to accommodate 832 if that many are ever needed. The jail is projected to cost $155 million.

Because the county faces a budget deficit that could grow to $50 million by 2017, it may have to take on bond debt to pay for the bulk of the jail’s costs, said budget director Jim Saco.

“We don’t have $155 million in cash sitting around; we’ll either have to finance it or get some grant money,” he said.

In addition, the county will have to come up with about $34 million a year to operate the facility.

A group organized by Oakland-based Californians United for a Responsible Budget, which seeks to reduce the number of people in prison, has indicated it will speak out against the contracts at today’s meeting.

Californians United spokesman Isaac Ontiveros said even though the board has already voted to proceed with the new jail, the group still holds out hope of stopping it from being built. The money would be better spent on programs that help keep people out of incarceration, he said.

“History has shown us, if you build it you’ll fill it, if you fill it you’ll overcrowd it,” Ontiveros said. “If you’re worried about overcrowding, the plan should not be to expand facilities or build new ones but to make sure they (offenders) don’t get into these facilities in the first place and when they leave they don’t return.”

But Munks has argued that a new jail is needed to relieve overcrowding at the main jail in Redwood City and to house female inmates who are now incarcerated at an aging women’s jail.

Also, a state budget decision to house lower-level offenders in county jails instead of state prison will exacerbate current overcrowding conditions, according to the county probation and sheriff’s office.

The county has already purchased 4.8 acres just east of Highway 101 in Redwood City for its new jail. Last month, Munks said he hopes to break ground on construction by the end of the year.

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