Gov. Jerry Brown came to Stanislaus County on Tuesday to be where the action is in the current era of criminal justice reform in the Golden State.
Local and state officials gathered at the Public Safety Center on Hackett Road in west Ceres where the county has been on a building craze, adding a probation center and several hundred jail beds within the past three years. Much of the funding has come from the state.
Brown said the state has seen the justice system swing from laws to put criminals away to prison overcrowding and a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2011 that forced the state to shrink its prison population.
On Tuesday, the governor and county officials dedicated 170,000 square feet of facilities that help address Stanislaus County’s historical need for more jail space and fulfill its role in California’s public safety realignment, a reform initiative that makes counties responsible for less-serious offenders.
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Brown stressed it’s not just about putting people behind bars. “It is intervention, with intelligence and humanity and force – all of that,” Brown said. “This facility is getting it right. It is no easy task to get a heroin addict to stop using heroin or getting a car thief to start working.”
Board of Supervisors Chairman Vito Chiesa recalled that the governor was here in 2014 and spoke with a group of jail inmates, asking them how many had dealt with addictions. All of them raised their hands, Chiesa said.
Brown and county leaders unveiled a gold dedication plaque for what’s known as AB 900 Phase II Projects 1 and 3. The highly secure main facility has 480 jail beds, plus 57 beds for inmates with medical and mental health needs. It has 15 hospital beds. The second facility dedicated Tuesday is an intake, transportation and administration center.
The total budget for the two projects was more than $114 million.
The county previously opened a Day Reporting Center at the same Hackett Road location, giving adults on probation a place for meeting with probation officers and connecting with services. Nearby, construction workers are building a 288-bed re-entry facility, a locked facility designed for programs to help inmates learn to live in the community.
Once the re-entry facility is completed, the county could close the antiquated downtown Modesto jail, but it won’t happen before a new courthouse is built.
Sheriff Adam Christianson said he will begin moving inmates March 20 into the jail expansion, which will open in phases as staffing and funding allow.
At Tuesday’s dedication, Christianson recalled being an arch opponent of public safety realignment and became more outspoken as president of the California State Sheriff’s Association, earning a reputation in the Governor’s Office as that “difficult sheriff from Stanislaus County.”
“Law enforcement does not embrace change a lot, but we have now,” Christianson said.
With the 552-bed jail expansion, Stanislaus leads other counties in completing the first project funded by Assembly Bill 900 Phase II funds. The county received $80 million from the state and used $9.5 million in county funds for the expansion. The county committed $24 million in public facility fees collected from development to design and build the second facility.
The dedication was a rare collegial moment between a Democratic leader and conservatives on the other side of the political divide. The five members of the Board of Supervisors are Republicans.
“Given all the chaos in Washington, I am glad it is all sweetness and light in Stanislaus,” Brown said, getting a laugh from the audience.
Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321